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Referenda

Oct 20, 2017

A very quick election roundup

An occasional feature. This week, Czechia, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, Australia and Catalonia.

Charles Richardson — Editor of The World is not Enough

Charles Richardson

Editor of The World is not Enough

There’s a lot happening, some of which I don’t have time to cover properly. But here’s a quick roundup.

Czechia and Japan

There are two important elections this weekend, Czechia (sometimes known as the Czech Republic) on Saturday and Japan on Sunday. Both are seen as a bit of a foregone conclusion: Czechia for ANO, junior coalition partner in the outgoing government, and Japan for the incumbent Liberal Democratic Party.

But whereas we know what victory in Japan means – the LDP has won almost every postwar election in Japan, often with large majorities – Czechia is more contentious. It also involves that media staple, “populism”, although in a somewhat different way to most of its appearances. Think Clive Palmer rather than Pauline Hanson.

I’ll aim to cover these questions in a preview of Czechia tomorrow, followed by a preview of Japan. I’ll also be in Prague on Saturday night (Sunday morning Australian time) to report on the results. (I will not be then heading to Japan.)

New Zealand

Our eastern neighbor is to have a new government, after NZ First leader Winston Peters did what I said he would not do and announced that he would support Labour to take office. With the inclusion of the Greens, the new government will have a six-seat majority, 63 to 57.

I think the deal reflects badly on all three parties: Peters has done the opposite of what voters in general and his voters in particular clearly expected, while Labour – and even more so the Greens, who are supposed to be above this sort of thing – have betrayed their principles by getting into bed with the populist right.

The only one who emerges with much credit is National Party leader Bill English, who has gone into opposition rather than give in to Peters’s demands.

Germany

Following last month’s election, three parties – the Christian Democrats, Liberals and Greens – have finally got around to negotiating for the formation of a coalition government. It could take some time. (I’ve commented before on the leisurely pace of coalition-building in Germany.)

Nonetheless, there seems little reason to doubt that they will eventually reach agreement. All three look to be approaching the task in a constructive spirit, and none of them have much in the way of alternatives. Some policy compromises will be necessary all round, but they all know that: that’s how German politics works.

Australia

Latest figures show that turnout in the same-sex marriage postal ballot has reached 67.5%, with two and a half weeks still left for the return of ballot papers. That puts it a long way ahead of the last voluntary national vote we had, the 1997 election to the constitutional convention: it managed 46.9%.

Which is no surprise, since the convention was a complicated preferential ballot whereas this is a single yes/no question. But it’s bad news for the “no” campaign, which was relying on a low turnout, and in particular on low participation from younger voters. There’s no doubt that “yes” will win very comfortably.

That doesn’t justify the project of putting people’s fundamental rights to a popular vote, especially one as ramshackle as this. But it does mitigate the offence a little, and means we can finally put the issue behind us.

Catalonia

And finally Catalonia, where the continuing crisis over secession has brought the possibility of a fresh regional election back onto the agenda.

This may induce a sense of déjà vu, since it was the stalemate following the previous, “unofficial” independence referendum that led to early regional elections in 2015, which in turn produced an inconclusive result: the separatists won a parliamentary majority but a minority of the popular vote.

An election now would offer one possibility of defusing the issue, if the anti-independence forces were to win a majority. But given the lengths that Madrid has been going to to alienate Catalan opinion, the chance of that is not great.

Now more than ever, both sides need to calm down, stop threatening and start talking to each other. But there’s no sign of it just yet.

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