Time to tie up some loose ends from recent electoral events, some of which we’ll be pursuing further in coming weeks.
You can view my live reporting of Super Tuesday here. The bottom line is that Donald Trump performed slightly below expectations, but not enough to dent the general perception that he is the almost inevitable nominee. The biggest thing in his favor was that Marco Rubio also fared badly: in the eleven states voting, Rubio managed only one win, two seconds and eight thirds.
That means Rubio and Ted Cruz are both still contending for the title of the anti-Trump, so that the chance of either of them winning a majority of delegates is vanishingly small. But they may still between them be able to deny Trump a majority, leading to a brokered convention in which one of them – or some other compromise candidate, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan – could be nominated.
The next events to watch are the Louisiana primary and the Kansas, Kentucky and Maine caucuses (all on Saturday) and the Puerto Rico primary on Sunday. (That’s for Republicans; the Democrats are doing Maine on Sunday and Puerto Rico not until June.) Then on Tuesday it’s primaries in Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho and caucuses in Hawaii (the last two Republican only).
What I call the paradox of authoritarian democracy struck last week in Iran, where the regime of theocrat Ali Khamenei demonstrated that its dictatorial control was rather less than might have been supposed – by losing an election.
Not all of the seats in parliament have yet been filled – there’ll be a second round of voting next month – but on results so far the moderate or reformist group allied with president Hassan Rouhani has made big gains, going from a small minority to rough parity with the conservatives.
According to the ILNA news agency (as quoted by the New York Times) the moderates have won 83 seats to 78 conservatives and 61 independents. Wikipedia gives 98 moderates, 92 conservatives and 32 independents, and there are also more partisan estimates available on each side. Another 68 seats will be decided in the second round.
It’s an excellent result for Rouhani, particularly since the reformists swept every seat but one in the capital, Tehran, and there’s a strong tradition of the parliament taking its lead from Tehran’s representatives. The conservative hold on the Assembly of Experts, the body that will ultimately appoint a successor to Khamenei, has also been shaken, notably with the defeat of its conservative outgoing chairman, Mohammad Yazdi.
Juan Cole, as usual, has an intelligent take on events. ADDED 7.10pm: There’s now also a very good report in the Economist (hat tip: Race Mathews), whose reporter quotes a Tehran businessman saying “if you want change in the Middle East, you have two choices—reform what you can, or follow Syria.”
Spain’s first formal attempt to get itself a new government following December’s inconclusive election failed this week, when Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez was defeated on an investiture vote by 219 to 130. Since he needed a two-thirds majority, he wasn’t even close; a second attempt tonight will only require a simple majority, but is equally unlikely to succeed.
The mathematics of the situation are reasonably straightforward. Only one other party, when teamed with the Socialists, would yield a majority, namely the incumbent centre-right Popular Party. That’s what the Popular Party and its leader, Mariano Rajoy, say they want – but Rajoy, as the senior partner, would want to remain prime minister. Sánchez has consistently said no.
Alternatively, a Socialist linkup with the radical left Podemos would be close to a majority, and could probably get there with the support of small regional and leftist parties. Podemos have offered to try, but negotiations went nowhere. Instead, Sánchez did a deal with the smallest of the four main parties, the centrist Citizens, a combination that – as Wednesday’s vote demonstrated – falls well short of a majority.
The parties now have two months to come up with a combination that works, failing which fresh elections will have to be held. The obvious solution would seem to be a Socialist government supported by both Citizens and Podemos, each balancing the other’s influence, but there’s no certainty that it will happen.
Figures from last week’s Irish election are now final, with Fine Gael finishing on 50 seats (one of which is the Speaker), Fianna Fáil 44, Sinn Féin 23, Labour seven, and 34 to minor parties and independents. The two largest parties have both rejected the idea of a grand coalition, but since they also refuse to deal with Sinn Féin it’s very difficult to see how either of them is going to get to a majority.
Fianna Fáil appears to be better placed to win support from minor parties and independents, but although that might be enough to get ahead of the Fine Gael-Labour combination, it’s another thing to actually put together a government. Early elections are a distinct possibility.
Jamaica also voted last week, in a typical British-style election of single-member electorates, first past the post and a two-party system. The government of the centre-left Peoples National Party was defeated by the narrowest possible margin, with the Jamaican Labour Party (counterintuitively centre-right) winning a one-seat majority, 32-31, off 50.1% of the vote.
Labour leader Andrew Holness has been sworn in as the new prime minister – a position he had previously held briefly prior to the 2011 election.
Jamaican democracy went through a rocky patch in the 1970s and ’80s, but since then it has been characterised by generally stable government and the alternation in power of the two major parties, which routinely win more than 99% of the vote between them. The country’s economic performance, however, remains disappointing.
Holness gave as his priority “to grow the economy and create meaningful jobs,” promising that this would “more rapidly and sustainably reduce debt.”