France doesn’t run a long changeover period: Emmanuel Macron was sworn in as the new president yesterday, just a week after his election victory. He gave an upbeat inaugural address, saying that the world more than ever needed the values that France represents, of liberty, equality and fraternity.
His predecessor and former boss, François Hollande, said that he was leaving the country in better shape than he found it five years ago, although opinion polls suggest that most voters have their doubts about that. But ex-presidents usually find that their stature rises once they are out of the job, and Hollande may well undergo the same sort of rehabilitation as Jacques Chirac, who was also fiercely unpopular at the end of his term.
Macron is expected to name his prime minister today, which will do something to set the tone of his government. But whoever it is, their tenure will be hostage to the results of next month’s parliamentary election.
The president’s party, now known as La République En Marche (Republic on the Move), so far has 428 candidates endorsed (list here) for the 577 seats in the National Assembly. They include 24 incumbents, all from the Socialist Party and its allies, but many slots are still being left open in the hope of attracting other serving politicians, including those from the centre-right Republicans.
There is also the delicate matter of managing the relationship with François Bayrou and his centrist Democratic Movement (MoDem), who provided crucial support for Macron and now expects to be rewarded. Only 38 of the announced candidates come from MoDem, but Le Monde reports that the final figure is now expected to be more like a hundred.
After France and Britain, the third big European election for the year is in Germany, scheduled for 24 September. (Remarkably, this is the first time since 1924 that the three have all gone to the polls in the same year.) Yesterday’s election in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous German state, was being seen as a key indicator.
The result was even better than expected for the Christian Democrats (CDU), the party of chancellor Angela Merkel. Results so far show the outgoing coalition partners in the state government, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, losing 7.8% and 5.0% respectively. Their combined total has fallen from 128 seats out of 237 to just 83 seats out of 199.
The CDU won 32.9% (up 6.6%) and 72 seats, while its likely coalition partner, the Free Democrats, had 12.5% (up 3.9%) and 28 seats, giving them a bare majority between them. CDU leader Armin Laschet will be the new premier. The far-right Alternative for Germany entered the state parliament with 7.4% and 16 seats, while the Pirate Party dropped out and the Left narrowly failed to reach the threshold, despite almost doubling its vote.
North Rhine-Westphalia is SPD heartland and the home state of its federal leader, Martin Schulz. Coming on top of a poor result the previous week in the much smaller state of Schleswig-Holstein, it suggests that the honeymoon period that Schulz enjoyed earlier this year when he took on the leadership is well and truly over.
Unless the SPD can pull something out of the hat in the next couple of months, Merkel looks to be heading for a comfortable re-election.
On the other side of the world, in a land untouched by proportional representation, the Canadian province of British Columbia last week put on a cliffhanger. The Liberals, in power for 16 years, suffered an adverse swing of 3.3%, leaving them still with a plurality of 40.9% and 43 seats. The centre-left opposition New Democrats (NDP) won 39.9% and 41 seats, while the Greens scored their best-ever result with 16.7% but only won three seats.
If those numbers hold, there’s the possibility of the Greens supporting an NDP government. The Conservative Party at provincial level is basically defunct, so the Liberal Party, despite being centrist to centre-left at a federal level, operates more as a centre-right party in British Columbia. It’s hard to see it working well in a minority with the Greens.
But postal votes are yet to be counted [link added], so it’s still possible that one of the major parties could win a majority. In particular, the seat of Courtenay-Comox was won by the NDP from the Liberals by only nine votes, with maybe about 3,000 postals outstanding. There’s a good chance that the Liberals will be able to reel that in, giving them another term in government.
Preferential voting, of course, would have put the NDP in power with a solid majority. In Courtenay-Comox, for example, there were almost 5,000 Greens votes, which the electoral system just threw away.
But to see an undemocratic electoral system in all its glory, you need to go to the Bahamas, which held its parliamentary election last Wednesday. The centre-left Progressive Liberal Party, led by Perry Christie, had won a landslide in the 2012 election and was seeking a second term in office.
Like Canada, the Bahamas was bequeathed by its British colonists a first-past-the-post single-member system. Being a small and relatively homogeneous country, majorities tend to be magnified alarmingly. In 2012 the PLP only won 48.6%, against 42.1% for the centre-right Free National Movement. But it won more than three times as many seats, 29 to nine.
This time it was the other way round. Christie’s government was badly on the nose, with allegations of rampant corruption, and the FNM swept the pool, winning 35 seats to four. Its leader Hubert Minnis was sworn in the following day as the new prime minister.
There are no figures available yet for how many votes the parties received, but for as long as anyone can remember the split has always been within the limits of 60-40 either way. It’s certainly not going to be anything that justifies trying to run a parliament with an opposition of just four seats.
Finally to Austria, where the collapse over the weekend of the governing grand coalition is likely to lead to early elections.
At the last election, in 2013, the two major parties, the Social Democrats (centre-left) and the People’s Party (centre-right), commanded a bare majority of the vote between them. They re-formed their coalition, with Social Democrat Werner Faymann as chancellor and the People’s Party’s Michael Spindelegger as his deputy.
Both parties subsequently changed leaders: Reinhold Mitterlehner took over the centre-right and Christian Kern the centre-left. The coalition continued, but it became increasingly acrimonious, with the People’s Party trying to shore up right-wing support (particularly on immigration) against its far-right rival, the Freedom Party.
The breaking point came last week when Mitterlehner resigned his party leadership. According to the BBC, new leader Sebastian Kurz said he would recommend today that an early election be held, probably in September or October. Chancellor Kern said he had “difficulty picturing a scenario in which we could put together a stable minority government.”
That’s going to add to what’s already a big election year in Europe. In addition to Austria, other countries going to the polls in the (northern) autumn include Norway on 11 September, Germany 24 September and Czechia 21 October.