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Turning left or melting down?

By Blog Admin, on 23 October 2013

ANO2011 poster

Photo: Seán Hanley

 Seán Hanley previews the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic where several newly formed parties, including the ANO2011 anti-corruption movement led by billionaire Andrej Babiš, have the potential to  shake up the country’s ailing political establishment.

Czech voters go to the polls in early parliamentary elections on 25-26 October. The elections follow the collapse, amid personal and political scandal, of the centre-right government of Petr Nečas in June, and the subsequent failure of President Zeman’s handpicked caretaker administration to win a vote of confidence.

At one level the election seems set to deliver a simple and straightforward verdict,: established opposition parties on the left will win, while governing right-wing parties will be heavily rejected by an electorate frustrated with austerity, stagnating living standards and sleaze. The main opposition Czech Social Democrats (ČSSD), most polls have suggested, will emerge as the clear winners with around 25-30 per cent of the vote, although the final polls published before voting have suggested that the party’s support is starting to slide. Meanwhile the hardline Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) is likely to pull in 15-20 per cent.

 The polls also point to a defeat of historic proportions for the right-wing parties of the former coalition. The Civic Democrats (ODS) (formerly led by Nečas) have proved surprisingly deft in trying to pull back from the brink: the party picked Miroslava Němcová, one of its few leaders untainted by corruption – and the first woman to head a major Czech party – as the party’s new public face and have run an inventive (and occasionally witty) Twitter-led election campaign.

But voters have remained largely unimpressed and the ODS seems set to see the 20 per cent support it received in the 2010 elections – then its worst ever performance – halved, relegating it to minor party status. Some polls put the ODS as low as 6.5 per cent, close to the 5 per cent threshold for parliamentary representation. The Chart below gives an indication of the latest polling.

ODS’s main centre-right rival TOP09 has, however, failed to capitalise on the troubles of its former coalition partner. Instead, it has waged a pedestrian election campaign and has no prospect of repeating its success in this year’s presidential election, when TOP09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg united a broad swathe of liberal and centre-right voters against the left-wing challenge of Miloš Zeman. Most polls suggest the party will struggle to match the 16 per cent it polled in 2010

Many voters have turned to new parties and extra-parliamentary groupings. Niche parties such as the Greens and Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), ‘personal parties’ such as the Civic Rights Party (SPOZ) of President Zeman or the Eurosceptic nationalist ‘Heads Up’ bloc endorsed by Václav Klaus have picked up sufficient support to put them within shouting distance of the five per cent hurdle.

So too has the populist Dawn of Direct Democracy movement of a businessman-turned-politician Tomio Okamura. Okamura, who first came to prominence as a judge on the Czech TV’s version of Dragon’s Den in 2010, has gained profile through his fierce attacks against the political class, socially populist rhetoric and baiting of the Roma minority using his unusual Czecho-Japanese background to deny accusations of racism

The most telling impact, however, has been made by ANO2011 the anti-corruption movement led by the Slovak-born billionaire Andrej Babiš, which has moved in a few weeks from relative obscurity to opinion ratings comfortably in excess of 10 per cent and is now regularly outpolling ODS and TOP09. (more…)

Alexei Navalny: Could a politically self-made man make it to the Kremlin?

By Blog Admin, on 7 October 2013

Alexey Navalny

Photo: MItya Aleshkovskiy [CC BY-SA-3.0]

The leading anti-Putin blogger and activist Alexei Navalny was recently handed a five-year jail sentence following a widely criticised trial. But his mix of hard-headed anti-corruption politics and internet-based mobilisation may yet pose a challenge to the Kremlin, writes Ekaterina Besedina

On 8 September 2013 Alexei Navalny officially received 27.2% in the Moscow mayoral election, while the incumbent Sergei Sobyanian – one of President Putin’s closest allies – gained 51.2%. This narrow absolute majority meant that the second round run off expected by Navalny supporters was avoided. The Moscow Electoral Commission subsequently declared Sobyanin mayor. Navalny is still trying to challenge the vote in the courts with evidence of voter fraud and ballot stuffing.

The Kremlin had to demonstrate its power and majority support in Russia. This was one of the reasons why the run off did not happen. But Navalny managed to get on the ballot, win a large percentage of votes, and challenge Sobyanin. Despite the a fraud trial still threatening Navalny with five years jail, he has built up a substantial base of support, proving it possible to build a large scale political campaign without access to federal TV channels.

Navalny, a lawyer and high-profile blogger, is the first Russian politician to be created by the internet. His mayoral campaign was based on the internet, social networks and the enthusiasm of supporters. He started gaining popularity two years ago during major opposition protests, becoming a key figure in a growing movement for change that has a potential to challenge the Kremlin and Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. (more…)

Whatever happened to Moldova’sTwitter generation?

By Blog Admin, on 16 September 2013

Moldova celebrates the EU

Photo: Kevin Anderson Kevglobal BY-NC-SA 2.0

Young people spearheaded the 2009 Twitter Revolution in Moldova but are now deeply disillusioned with electoral politics. The country’s future direction in Europe may depend on whether they can be re-engaged, argues Ellie Knott .

It commonly assumed that young people in Moldova are politically uninterested, inactive and inert. However they were among the most active during the 2009 Twitter Revolution against the re-election of the Communist Party.

Young people also formed a crucial part of the electorate: 18-29 year olds are the base electorate of the two of the three parties in the previous Alliance for European Integration (AIE), and the recently formed Pro-European Coalition, comprising 43% of Liberal Democrat Party’s (PLDM) votes and 41% of the Liberal Party’s (PL) votes. To hold on to power in next year’s parliamentary elections, for at least two of the three parties in the Pro-European coalition, ensuring that young people vote – and that they vote for them – will be fundamental to their continuing success.

Young people often describe the change of government in 2009, which saw the AIE displace the Communists, as a turning point for Moldovan politics. It inspired them and encouraged them to believe that things would be different. Many concede that since the ‘democratic’ parties took power the situation has improved, particularly in terms of personal and media freedom and Moldova’s progress with EU integration. But this initial positivity has been often dampened. Several interviewees described how they had stopped following the political situation in the media of late because as one put it  ‘the more I watched news, the sadder I got’. They often spoke of the ‘drama’ and ‘theatrics’ of Moldovan politics, the constant fighting between politicians and how lying and stealing are running rife. (more…)

Losing Riga – losing Latvia?

By Blog Admin, on 3 July 2013

Licia Cianetti explains the broad appeal of Latvia’s traditionally Russophone Harmony Centre party in Riga– but argues that ‘post-ethnic politics’ may not be just around the corner.

 On 1st June the residents of Riga went to the polls to elect a new City Council. The election came after four years under mayor Nils Ušakovs, the first ethnic Russian to lead an administration in the capital. Ušakovs secured another victory for his moderate Russophone ethnic party, Harmony Centre, and kept his post for another term.

That Ušakovs won did not come as a surprise to anybody was politics in Riga; the main question before the elections was not whether Harmony Centre would win but by how much it would win.

 Ušakovs was elected mayor of Riga in 2009, when Harmony Centre won 34% of the vote and had entered a coalition with the mainstream Latvian party Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way (LPP/LC). The unthinkable then became reality: Riga, where a great share of Latvia’s population and wealth is concentrated, came under the control of a Russophone party that – by virtue of being Russophone – had consistently been excluded from power at the national level.

 The 2013 municipal election did not mark the end of this ‘anomaly’, but instead entrenched Harmony Centre’s dominant position in Riga. Harmony Centre’s electoral bloc with the local political party Gods kalpot Rigai! (Pround to serve Riga, GKR) won an impressive 58% of the vote, giving them 39 seats of the 60 seats in Riga City Council. Only two other parties made it beyond the 5% threshold: the right-wing nationalist National Alliance (17.8%, 12 seats) and the centre-right Unity (14%, 9 seats), both currently in the Latvian government. Ušakovs’s success in Riga surely will force other parties to reconsider about what to do with Harmony Centre at the state level, whose ongoing exclusion from national power is looking a less and less tenable strategy. (more…)

Russia: Back to no future

By Blog Admin, on 18 June 2013

Moscow Russia anti-Putin Graffiti R-EVOLUTION-2

Photo: Victorgrigas via Wikimedia Commons

With his regime running out of steam, Vladimir Putin is resorting to the rhetoric of the past and traditional values. Marie Mendras sees little future in it. 

The moment of truth for a non-democratic leader is when he needs to revive his fading authority and legitimacy. A snatched electoral victory over a year ago brought Vladimir Putin no new popularity, indeed quite the opposite.

Since his return to the Kremlin, his words and actions have reflected entirely negative emotions, such as fear of his own people, distrust of the elites around him, and a desire to avenge himself on those who have dared oppose him. Much of his energy goes on proving himself right and his critics wrong: he even accuses these of working for foreign powers and endangering national security. Putin has not recovered from the humiliation and scare of last year’s political contest, and is now facing tough economic and social challenges. The choice he has made is to try to restore his authority with a combination of targeted repression, doctrinaire ideology and an increase in control over institutions and companies. This is an unlikely recipe for success.

Weakened legitimacy

Vladimir Putin was re-elected on a controversial vote in March 2012. He could have won his new mandate more honestly, had he accepted the possibility of a second round runoff, but he was determined to win an absolute majority in the first round. He wanted to humiliate the other ‘authorised’ candidates by raising himself high above them, proving that he was the one and only – and a loyal Central Electoral Commission conferred on him a generous 63% of the vote. A year on, all the voters’ associations and NGOs that investigated election fraud are being harassed and some, like the Golos association, might have to close down. Key figures in the movement for free elections are also being prosecuted.

Putin’s election in 2000 and 2004, and Dmitry Medvedev’s election in 2008, were ‘managed’ ballots as well. This time, however, things turned out less manageable than usual. The widespread and vocal public protest of the winter of 2011-12, news of which flew around the country in a few keystrokes, exposed all of the regime’s rottenness and trickery. And the anger of a revitalized civil society was directed at the leader in person, under the ubiquitous slogan: ‘Putin, ukhodi!’ [Putin – out!]. His party fared badly in the parliamentary elections of December 2011, and in Moscow itself its performance was a complete disaster.

Throughout the 2000s, Vladimir Putin built his power and legitimacy on order, rising living standards and Russia’s growing global status. However, he will have more difficulty delivering in all three of these areas in the months and years to come, and he will be held to account for it. (more…)

Moldova: An unravelling success story?

By Blog Admin, on 5 June 2013

IMG_9953

Photo: Anna Woźniak via Flikr  CC BY-SA 2.0

Vlad Filat, until recently Liberal Democrat Prime Minister of Moldova, is locked in a power struggle with Vladimir Plahotniuc, the country’s one and only oligarch. This war of attrition threatens the Eastern Partnership’s ‘success story’ and with it Moldova’s reform project says Andrew Wilson.

Not every policy detail may have been perfect in Moldova since 2009, but at least the narrative seemed right. Eastern Europe’s only ruling Communist Party fell from government. The changeover was mythologised as the ‘Twitter Revolution’ – a precursor of the ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘Moscow Winter’ – although in fact it was a prosaic process of elections and parliamentary arithmetic. The Communists were replaced by the smooth-sounding Alliance for European Integration, which was soon getting rave reviews for its reform efforts from the EU. Tiny Moldova leapfrogged the other five states in the Eastern Partnership and seemed to be first in the queue to sign an Association and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement at the Vilnius summit in November 2013.

 By 2013, however, reviews were getting more mixed. Since the beginning of the year, Moldova has plunged into the kind of political infighting reminiscent of Orange Ukraine at its worst. After a previous crisis over the presidency was solved in 2012, it had seemed the current parliament would sit out a full term until the next elections are due in 2014. Today, Moldova has to sort out three simultaneous problems: it has no stable government, new elections are threatened and it is limping toward the November summit. It might collapse over the finishing line or just before; it might have a sudden burst of energy in the finishing strait; or it might fail a last-minute dope test.

So what went wrong? In reality, the three-party Alliance for European Integration was badly designed at birth; more exactly, at its rebirth. The first incarnation of the AEI in 2009-2010 struggled with a minimal majority over the Communists. That majority was improved at new elections in November 2010, but the elections also gave Russia the chance to push hard for an alternative alliance between the Communists and the pivotal Democratic Party (which includes many ex-Communists). Vladimir Putin sent his right-hand man, Sergei Naryshkin, to Chisinau to seal the deal. He didn’t succeed but encouraged the Democrats to secure a high price for not defecting back to the Communists, with the signing of a secret agreement in December 2010, leaked in 2012, to partition not just ministries but also supposedly neutral state institutions and revenue streams among the AEI’s three component parties.  (more…)

Presidential elections hold up a mirror to Czech democracy

By Blog Admin, on 11 February 2013

Prezidentské volby 2013, volba prezidenta

Photo: Juandaev via Wikimedia Commons

 Left-wing former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman will be the Czech Republic’s next president after defeating aristocratic foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg in a run-off  election on 25-26 January. However, the presidential poll also tells us something more about Czech democracy says Seán Hanley.

The first direct elections of the Czech president offered a refreshing contrast to the back room manoeuvring and political horse-trading that accompanied the election in parliament of presidents Havel and (especially) Klaus. Despite the nastiness of the Zeman campaign and vacuousness of the political marketing around Karel Schwarzenberg, voters were offered a clear choice between personalities and priorities and turned out in large numbers to make it.

 Television pictures of voters ranging from ski-suited holiday-makers to prisoners choosing the new head of state send quiet but clear message of a country that takes its democracy seriously and knows how to use it.

 But the elections also hold up a more subtle mirror to Czech democracy, showing a political system still defined by patterns laid down in 1990s, which may nevertheless be on the cusp of change.

 Some of the lessons of the presidential elections are familiar ones. (more…)

Czech presidential elections: Surge in support for Schwarzenberg sets up close second round

By Blog Admin, on 21 January 2013

The Czech Republic held first-round presidential elections on 11-12 January. Seán Hanley assesses the results and how the two remaining candidates – Miloš Zeman and Karel Schwarzenberg – are likely to fare when the country goes back to the polls for the second-round run off later this month.

Karel Schwarzenberg

Karel Schwarzenberg Photo: Pastorius

 Few observers, even a matter of weeks beforehand, would have predicted the success of the two candidates who will be contesting the second round run-off to choose the Czech Republic’s first directly elected president, which takes place on 25-26 January.

 Miloš Zeman, who topped the poll in the first round on 11-12 January with 24.2 per cent, is a former Prime Minister who led the Czech Social Democratic Party between 1993 and 2001. However, he acrimoniously split with the party he once led and his return from political retirement in 2009 to lead his own Citizens’ Rights Party (SPOZ) was regarded by many as a vanity project. SPOZ failed to enter parliament in the May 2010 parliamentary elections and Zeman’s presidential bid, announced in June last year, seemed set to be similarly unsuccessful.

 Karel Schwarzenberg, the aristocratic Czech foreign minister, who ran Zeman a close second with 23.4 per cent of the vote, was perhaps always a more plausible contender. A scion of the Austro-Hungarian nobility, diplomat and former chief of staff to Václav Havel, Schwarzenberg was one of the Czech Republic’s most popular politicians.  The electoral success in 2010 of TOP09, the newly formed party he led, owed much to Schwarzenberg’s appeal as retro anti-politician. However, although one of the first to announce his candidacy, Schwarzenberg‘s campaign soon flagged badly, damaged by TOP09’s role in the governing centre-right coalition and unwavering commitment to austerity. At 75, Schwarzenberg was the oldest candidate and had not always appeared in robust good health. By December 2012 polls still put his support at under 10 per cent. (more…)

Romania’s Elections: Politics Can’t Be Different?

By Blog Admin, on 20 December 2012

2012-01-15-Romanian-protests-in-Bucgarest

Photo: Adriatikus

Romania’s recent parliamentary elections have done little to bring about the change needed to address the country’s ongoing political and economic crisis, argues Daniel Brett.

The Romanian elections of 9 December, which took place against a backdrop of economic crisis, austerity, political gamesmanship, polarisation, highly personalised politics, have produced a parliament with four main blocs:

  • The Social Liberal Union (USL), principally made up of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the National Liberals (PNL) but also includes the Conservative Party (PC) of businessman Dan Voiculescu and the UNPR, a small social democratic group. The Union won a two-thirds majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, with its seats divided 60/40 in favour of the PSD;
  • The main opposition Right Romania Alliance (ARD), which was dominated by President Traian Băsescu’s Party of Democratic Liberals (PDL) but also included Civic Force, the party of former Prime Minister Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu and a faction of National Peasant Party (PNŢ).  Following the election the ARD dissolved itself, although many believe that some form of new opposition coalition will emerge before the next.
  • The People’s Party of Dan Diaconescu (PPDD), owner of the OTV television channel.
  • The Union of Democratic Hungarians (UMDR), the long established party of Romania’s Hungarian minority.

 The outcome of the election will do little to address Romania’s chronic economic and political crisis, which has stretched back almost two years. Despite the economic crisis, the elections were not dominated by discussions about what should be done about the economy. The USL promises – primarily increasing pensions and wages, while at the same time securing an IMF loan – remain impossible to fulfil. The whole crisis has been marked by a failure to develop an alternative strategy. The ARD programme was very loose, saying little about economic policies but choosing instead to focus on corruption and threats to democracy to set itself in opposition to the USL. The Alliance also emphasized its closeness to the European Union and the USA and attempted in some senses to de-politicise itself by focussing upon links with NGOs and civil society. (more…)

Does the eurozone crisis threaten liberal reforms in Eastern Europe?

By Blog Admin, on 15 November 2012

Uncertainties about the EU’s future are undermining mainstream parties throughout Europe. In Central and Castern Europe politicians can no longer sell the European model of liberal reforms when that model is itself in crisis, argues Sean Hanley

OccupyFrankfurt October 2011 EZB

Photo: Blogotron via Wikicommons

Although only three EU members in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia, have adopted the Euro, the knock-on  effects of stagnation in the Eurozone has pushed governments across CEE towards unpopular austerity programmes, exacerbating social tensions and collapsing support for incumbent parties. The uncertainties about the EU’s future are also undermining mainstream parties in the region. Politicians can no longer sell liberal reforms as part of a successful, tried and tested european model as they once did, when that model is itself in crisis. For many this seems to point darkly towards a turning away from liberal politics in CEE and a growth in euroscepticism, populism and nationalism. (more…)