Sunday, May 18, 2014

Political Affairs - four biggest Elections of '14

1) India
The world's largest democratic elections concluded peacefully--that's the real good news.  500 million voters was the number I heard, and the voting process was systematic and results counted reasonably quickly.

Another good piece of news is that the turnover of political control to the opposition will happen quickly and cleanly.  Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi has already conceded his party's clear defeat by Narendra Modi's BJP opposition coalition--it was pretty massive, really.  Gandhi and his party ran a weak campaign--outgoing Congress Party Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepping down and no one really stepping up.   Gandhi may be replaced in the future by yet another member of the family, his sister Priyanka, who put him in the shade during the campaign.  Momma Sonia from Italy, who took over the party when her husband, Rahul's father Rajiv, got blown up by Tamil terrorists, may decide if Priyanka's up to the task, as clearly #1 son was not.  We'll get back to Modi in a moment.

Party leader charisma, though important (and a common feature throughout this post), is only part of the story.   India looked for change, and the BJP is the Congress' Party's foil; when Congress fails to live up to its ideals--secular, tolerant, democratic, socialist, generous to the poor, and somehow improving economic conditions in the face of all that solicitude--then the 10-15% of swing voters in India who decide elections switch away.  The fact that India's growth rate has been among the highest in the world the last few years was not convincing to those who remain poor and want more.

Modi is the long-time Chief Minister of Gujarat state; this meant the possibility of increased growth and development to those voters, as Gujarat is the wealthiest and most productive of Indian states (whether Modi had much to do with it is debated, as is his commitment to helping all the people of his state, as opposed to just the wealthy business interests). A lot has been promised, and as long as the growth rate shifts into high gear for a prolonged period, Modi and the BJP can expect to maintain control.  Past history, though, suggests that successfully maintaining a coalition of parties and individuals mostly motivated by opposition to Congress doesn't last too long.

Besides generating economic growth (in my view, always too much to ask of a head of government), Modi will need to keep the society from turning in an ugly direction, and he may be the wrong person for that task. As Gujarat CM, he was accused of negligence--or worse--in the case of 2002 riots in his state in which the response to the killing of a few dozen Hindus attributed to the Muslim community was widespread rioting and the murder of several hundred Muslims.  He was officially exonerated, but his first act as PM will necessarily be that of reassuring India's minorities that they have nothing to fear from the rule of the Hindu nationalists.  To me, that step (saying the right things) is a given; we will have to see how he governs in that regard; part of his constituency is communal support from the militant Hindu community, which will expect him to benefit them specifically.

The Muslim minority (about 10%, or 100 million) seem willing to give Modi a chance if he can deliver the goods.  They are the most downtrodden ones, economically, and in need of a change in the economy and in the social order.   Here is a rather amazing quote from a Muslim shopkeeper who supported the BJP:
Riots don’t matter because they happen all the time,” he said, clutching a lemonade to help cool off in the heat. “What matters is business development — just look at how Modi developed Gujarat. They don’t even have power cuts. He’ll do the same for the country now.
I don't want to take sides in affairs that are not my business, but this gives me some concern.

2) European Parliamentary Elections -
A week from today, all the 28 European Community nations will go to the polls to elect a new European Parliament, in what may be the most important election yet of this hugely deliberative but somewhat insubstantial body.  The reason is that the European Community itself, and the policies it has pursued, has risen to a level of campaign issue almost as great as the local political rivalries that generally predominate. Some 200 million are expected to vote, though turnout may be expected to be relatively low, except when the European elections are combined with some local ones.

A great many parties covering all points of the political spectrum in most of the countries are dissatisfied with Europe, the main themes being the unwillingness to grant further powers to the Brussels bureaucrats and a desire to end the current economic policies--tight money, cuts in national budgets, and entrenched subsidies for the relative few who are perceived to benefit for them.  Thus, the strength in pre-election polls of the leftist Syriza party in Greece,  the U.K. Independence Party, the right-wing National Front in France, the Socialists in Spain and Portugal, and the Five-Star Movement and the Northern League in Italy, all of which are advocating some sort of pullback from the current scheme, and are especially not too fond of that darned Euro thing.

The various national parties have lined up with seven cross-border lists, though the non-affiliated parties may end up being the ones with the largest gains.  Here are the main results I will be watching:
  • The winners in some of the national contests, in particular, in Italy--Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party (S&D) vs. Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movement (not aligned), with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza italia (EPP) running a distant third--in the U.K. (the Conservatives have split on Europe, with the UKIP perceived as the leaders going in), and in France, in which Marine LePen's National Front (non-affiliated) is favored over the traditional vote leaders, the centrist, formerly-Gaullist parties (EPP) and the Socialists (S&D).   
  • The overall leadership among the lists--each of which is to propose a leader as its candidate for the President of the European Commission.  This will be a close race between the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the list with the most current members,  the EPP (European Populist Parties); however, the centrifugal forces are running strongly against these two broad groups of the center-left and the center-right. 
  • The politicking for the Presidency (this is the first time the Parliament will directly elect that position). This will begin with the list with the largest number, which will first try to secure its most natural coalition partner--the S&D plus Greens (G/EFA), or the EPP with the ECD (European Conservatives and Reformists--mostly the U.K. Conservative party and Poland's Conservatives), then try to broaden it with the centrist kingmakers, the Liberal Democrats (ALDE), but even that may not get to a majority. This would leave them stretching to more extremist parties, which could break that fragile coalition--absent a decisive result, or some sort of grand bargain a la Germany, it could take months to resolve. 
  • What will the likely result--end to austerity, easier monetary policy--do to Germany's resolve, leadership in Europe, and its grand domestic coalition between Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (EPP) and the Social Democratic Party (S&D)?
I will follow up with comments here; I will also be watching the Italian results to see which of the lesser parties--after the three national leaders mentioned above, plus the Northern League, which is a regional force in the populous northern areas--can pass the test of survival as a viable force, i.e. exceeding the 4% minimum for representation. 

I have to give credit to the Wall Street Journal--that's right, WSJ--for its useful graphical presentation of the party alignments and projected outcomes based on polling in each nation.  Their title, "Changing Continent", was bland and stupid (it's not the continent that's changing, it's the politics, the culture, the EU--and what's it changing to?), but I give them credit for doing the spadework. 

 3) The United States 
Not much beyond my previous update in March--the two closest Senate races look to be Arkansas (which I had given up as a don't-care-much-loss for the Democrats) and North Carolina. Louisiana, another critical state with an endangered Democratic incumbent, has polls with results varying all over the map--the result is in doubt for November and could possibly go to a post-November runoff.  If the Democrats lose their seats in Alaska, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana, and fail to gain a seat in their two decent shots at a pickup, in Kentucky and Georgia, they will need to win two of those three state races to retain control. The betting (speaking of horse race, Belmont Stakes preview coming soon) is about 2:3 against.

I continue to think that, no matter what happens between now and November, the most likely result for Democratic supporters is eventual disappointment with the turnout and the results, with the possible exception of taking out some big-time jerks like McConnell in Kentucky and Governor Rick Scott in Florida.  The building outrage over campaign spending is nice, but it has taken too much of a partisan turn--Republicans need to be convinced that letting the Koch's and Rove's run their show is a bad idea for them, too.

4) Indonesia
(please excuse any spelling errors--I'm telling you, this isn't easy!)
It's close between the US and Indonesia for the third-largest sized election.  I rank the US above Indonesia here because it had 125 million voters in its 2012 Presidential election vs. 120 million for Indonesia's in 2009, but I have no doubt Indonesia's turnout this year will exceed the Americans' this year (in an off-year for the US, to be fair), but probably in the future, too (due to its higher population growth rate).

Indonesia's politics are a confusing scramble of party acronyms and of leaders with varying charisma, popular appeal, and, perhaps most importantly, the ongoing search for support from the two most powerful non-governmental forces, the military and the national Muslim social organization (the N. Ulaam).  Indonesia had legislative elections last month--which seem to have confused things greatly--and parties are organizing for national Presidential elections in July.  In order to win the Presidency, a candidate needs to end up with over 50% of the vote, or the top two candidates will go to a runoff in September.

Current Indonesian law states that a party needs 20% of the legislative vote, or 25% of the seats, to gain an automatic spot on the Presidential ballot--which means that none of the parties qualified!  Thus, there need to be official coalitions of parties to gain access; this is happening right now and should be finalized in the next week or two.

The leading candidate is Joko Widodo, known as "Jokowi", who is the youthful, lanky governor of Jakarta--one could say he looks somewhat like President Obama, but I want to avoid the birther/citizenship argument, so I won't say it.  Jokowi's party is the PDI-P, headed by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri (daughter of founding father Sukarno), and the PDI-P had the most votes in the legislative election, at 19%, but this was less than expected.  Jokowi will be endorsed by some other parties, and he is expected to name the leader of one of them, Jusuf Kalla, as his running mate (but wait!), which all agree will make a potent candidacy, hard to beat.

The second leading candidate is Prabowo Subianto, of Gerindra, the Great Indonesian Movement Party; his running mate is expected to be Hatta Rajawa, leader of the PAN party. This party has risen in recent years and moved from some 4% in the previous legislative election to around 12% this time, in third place. Prabowo is a former special forces commander, so he is considered a military hero for those who look for that.

After this, it gets really complicated.  The second-place party in the elections was Golkar (14%), the remnant of longtime dictator/former President Suharto's political machine, which broke up after he left power.  It is dominated by a rich dude named Aburizal Bakrie, who is trying to decide whether he will help Jokowi win or try to prevent him from doing so.  At one point, he endorsed Jokowi, but has since decided to try other gambits:  he offered to endorse Jokowi if he were named the running mate, but the leaders of PDI-P seem to think he would be a drag on the ticket.  So he may run, if he can get sufficient backing from other parties. There was talk of an alliance with the Democratic party, the political machine of outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono (4th place, down sharply from the last election).

The Democratic party had its convention and nominated a guy named Dahlan Iskan, but then had second thoughts, and there is talk of having one of their other candidates, Wiboro, run with Bakrie.  Then there is the party Hanura, run by former military head Wiranto, which will either endorse Jokowi or run with Bakrie.  Or not.   There's also the PKB, the party of former Pres. "Gus Dur" Wahid, which got 9% and hasn't made an endorsement, and three or four more explicitly Islamic parties, which totalled about 30% of the vote and are lining up behind one or more of the major candidates.

To conclude, what it seems is that Jokowi is fairly close to the 40% or so in firm support which would make him a clear favorite, in either the first or second round, and the other major forces--the Suharto heirs, leaders still standing from the somewhat-disgraced Yudhyono administration, the other military dudes, etc.--are trying to decide whether they should let it be, or try to stop him, and try to stop Megawati (who was defeated soundly by Yudhyono in the last Presidential, in 2009) from taking power again.

I refer to two articles in the Jakarta Globe, on May 13 and May 18, which helped me get this far. 


Chin Shih Tang said...

May 22: Correction - one of the Senate seats the Democrats should expect to lose is W. Virginia, not Nebraska. Nebraska's is an open seat with a Republican incumbent (Johanns) who is not running for re-election; the Republicans should hold it. W.Va. is Jay Rockefeller's longtime seat, and the Democrats are underdogs in that race. I have corrected the text in the post. --CST

Chin Shih Tang said...

June 11: The update on Indonesia: Only two presidential candidates (Jokowi and Prabowo) are running. Prabowo has the endorsement of Golkar (Bakrie), though a Golkar member (Kalla) is Jokowi's running mate. PKB endorsed Jokowi; the Democrat party has endorsed no one. The race has narrowed, so that endorsement could end up being very important. The election is in early July.

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