Most democracies are into holiday mode by now, but a few out-of-the-way places have been having elections and there’s some loose ends to tie up from other contests.
Turkmenistan, in Central Asia, held a multi-party election for its parliament on 15 December. Unfortunately there was no actual opposition permitted to the regime of president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov: the end of one-party rule has involved simply the creation of a new pro-government party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, to supplement the ruling Democratic Party.
Berdymukhamedov has ruled the resource-rich country for the last seven years, in equally repressive – if somewhat less eccentric – fashion as his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov. Niyazov, who called himself “Turkmenbashi”, ran one of the world’s most extreme personality cults, which extended to renaming months of the year after himself and members of his family.
Reuters reports that “None of the 238 candidates ran on an independent line in the vote,” but it’s at least a small encouragement that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a team of observers. Official results, for what they’re worth, show the Democratic Party taking 47 of the 125 seats, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs 14, the trade union organisation 33, the women’s union 16, the youth organisation eight and “groups of citizens” seven.
Mauritania – in north-west Africa, at the edge of where the Arab Spring has had its influence – voted on Saturday in the second round of its parliamentary election. This was more of a genuine contest, although the opposition alleges fraud and many opposition parties boycotted the polls.
The official results are difficult to follow, being in an odd combination of French and Arabic, so I’ll simply assume that Wikipedia’s summary is correct. It shows the ruling Union for the Republic, of president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, winning a narrow overall majority in its own right with 75 of the 146 seats.
The opposition, however, is fragmented; the next largest party will be the Islamist Tewassoul, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, with 16 seats. Another three so-called “moderate” opposition parties won 21 seats between them. There is also a range of smaller groups, most of them apparently aligned with the government: Wikipedia records 17 different parties winning seats, several of them only one each.
The Indian Ocean nation of Madagascar voted last Friday in the second round of its presidential election. Results are not expected to be released until early January, but AFP reports that both candidates have claimed victory. You can see the official first round results here.
Madagascar has been in an extended political crisis for about five years; it began with mass protests that eventually forced the departure of then-president Marc Ravalomanana in March 2009. I confess myself unable to summarise or even understand subsequent developments, but the current elections are supposed to mark a return to democracy and constitutional order.
The two candidates in the runoff are Jean Louis Robinson and Hery Rajaonarimampianina (one of the things that makes Madagascar difficult to understand is the prevalence of absurdly long names); Robinson led with 21.1% in the first round, while his rival had 15.9%.
Thailand’s snap election, called by prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the hope of ending a paralysing series of anti-government protests, is to be held on 2 February. But the opposition Democrat Party announced at the weekend, not unexpectedly, that it would boycott the polls.
Protests continue, with protesters trying – so far without success – to induce the army to step in. You don’t have to be a Yingluck fan to feel sympathy with her plaint yesterday: “If we don’t hold on to the democratic system, what should we hold on to?”
The Democrats, moving further and further away from their name, are taking Thailand into dangerous territory. The lesson of 2006-10 surely must be that military intervention doesn’t solve the underlying problems: eventually the soldiers go back to their barracks and the politicians have to sort things out themselves. Trashing democracy is just going to make that harder.
When we last looked at Austria, a couple of weeks ago, talks were continuing on forming a new coalition government. The Social Democrats and People’s Party subsequently reached an agreement and the new government was sworn in a week ago. Social Democrat Werner Faymann continues as chancellor with the People’s Party’s Michael Spindelegger as his deputy.
The centre-right seems to have done pretty well in the negotiations, with the government committed to a range of new austerity measures. That’s attracting a lot of criticism, with a wave of protests in Vienna. Particularly controversial is the decision to scrap the separate science and research ministry – its functions are being transferred to the economy ministry.
Most of Europe seems to be letting up on austerity, although opinions differ on whether that’s because it’s a failure or because it’s done its job. Time will tell whether bucking the trend is the right move or not for Austria.