Some loose ends to tie up, and elections this weekend in Georgia and the Czech Republic.
Four weeks now since the German election, and the leisurely process of forming a new government continues. Last week the Christian Democrats announced, as expected, that they wanted to negotiate a grand coalition with the Social Democrats, and at the weekend a meeting of SPD members backed the idea. Formal talks could now run for another month.
The Social Democrats have a set of demands they will make in the coalition talks, including wage increases and more government spending. But it’s not at all clear what their strategy is if the CDU should balk at any of them. The SPD seems to have pre-emptively thrown away its best card, namely the threat of combining with the Greens and the Left to try to form a broad-based non-CDU government.
Last week the Greens gave up the attempt to reach their own agreement with the CDU, but the party is apparently divided on what to do if the talks for a grand coalition fall over. Its more pragmatic wing would still like to try for coalition with the centre-right, while others would have another try at selling the SPD on a centre-left coalition. Failing that, the threat of fresh elections would start to loom.
Austria (which voted a week after Germany) is also in the process of forming a grand coalition, but in this case it’s a matter of reassembling the one that already existed prior to the election. Social Democrat chancellor Werner Faymann is not expected to have much difficulty in reaching a deal with the centre-right, although again things seem to proceed at a leisurely pace.
The big difference is that while a CDU/SPD combination in Germany will have a huge parliamentary majority (503 seats out of 630), in Austria the two main parties won only a narrow majority between them, 99 out of 183. Clearly their continued co-operation is hurting their electoral fortunes, but that in turn means that they need each other more than ever.
The Maldives, a small island chain south-west of India, have been in a state of constitutional crisis for nearly two years. On Saturday they almost held a presidential election, but in the end matters seem to have just gotten worse.
Mohamed Nasheed became the country’s first democratically elected president in 2008, but early last year he was removed from office in what was at best a slightly suspicious process and at worst a coup. Last month, in the first round of fresh presidential elections, Nasheed was again the clear leader, with 45.5% of the vote, against about a quarter of the vote for each of his two main rivals and an embarrassing 5.1% for the man who had replaced him, Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
But before a second round could be held the Maldives Supreme Court first postponed it and later annulled the whole contest, ordering the electoral commission to start again. Its attempt to do so at the weekend was again interrupted, after Nasheed’s two opponents went to court complaining that they had not had time to approve the electoral roll.
According to the BBC’s report, the court did not actually issue an injunction, but police shut down the election anyway. Nasheed evidently sees them as acting in the partisan interests of his opponents, and particularly Abdulla Yameen, who is the half-brother of the country’s former authoritarian ruler, Abdul Gayoom.
Nasheed’s supporters have blocked the capital with peaceful protests and called for fresh elections to be held under a caretaker president. That would be a sensible course of action, but it looks as if Nasheed has some very powerful enemies among the country’s establishment.
The Luxembourg general election yesterday produced the expected swing against centre-right incumbent Jean-Claude Juncker, although his centre-right party, the CSV, remains easily the largest group in parliament. (See Saturday’s preview here.)
Official results show the CSV on 33.7% with 23 of the 60 seats, followed by the centre-left and the liberals each with 13 seats and the Greens with six. A coalition between the three latter parties (which won 48.7% of the vote between them), excluding the CSV, is therefore a real possibility.
Despite that, and despite the fact that it had alluded to just such an option in its pre-election report (no longer available), the BBC reports the result unequivocally as Juncker having “won”. The first-past-the-post mentality is deeply entrenched in Britain.
No, not the US state, scene for a rather interesting Senate race next year, but the small country in the Caucasus mountains, on the southern border of Russia. Incumbent president Mikheil Saakashvili is reaching the end of his second and final term, and Georgians will vote on Sunday for his replacement.
In his day, Saakashvili was the darling of the neoconservatives for his pro-western policies and willingness to provoke the Russians. The latter attitude, however, led to war between the two countries in 2008, in which Georgia came off decidedly second-best. Saakashvili’s authoritarian tendencies also led to increased domestic opposition, and in parliamentary elections a year ago the opposition coalition, Georgian Dream, secured a clear majority.
Since then Saakashvili has been basically a lame duck leader, and the new government has brought in constitutional amendments that will reduce the future role of the president to more like a Westminster-style figurehead.
Golden Georgian Dream’s candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, is a firm favorite for Sunday, leading by more than 20% in a recent opinion poll.
The Czech Republic also votes this weekend (on Friday and Saturday), in parliamentary elections held early due to the fall of the previous government over a particularly enthralling spy scandal. That’s a big topic, so I’ll be back with a full preview later in the week.
In the meantime, Wikipedia has lots of material.