Spain’s Socialists fail to form government; Ukraine landslide for Zelensky’s party; Japan upper house elections

In a rare piece of good news for the left, the Spanish Socialists won the April 28 election. The Socialists won 123 of the 350 seats, the right-wing Popular Party (PP) 66, the right-leaning Citizens 57, the far-left Podemos 42 and the far-right Vox 24. Although the Socialists and Podemos, with 165 combined seats, did not reach the 176 needed for a majority, the assumption was that the Socialists would be able to govern with support from Podemos and left-wing separatist parties.

On July 25, Podemos abstained from a confidence vote in Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, causing the vote to be lost by 155 to 124 with 71 abstentions. There will be one more confidence vote in September, and if that is lost too, there must be an election. The disagreement between the Socialists and Podemos is due to assignations of cabinet positions between the two parties.

The lack of cooperation between the Socialists and Podemos means the left may have blown a rare triumph. Had Podemos voted with the Socialists, the confidence vote would have been won by 166 to 155.

Zelensky’s party easily wins Ukraine parliamentary elections

On April 21, Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian who was best known for acting as the Ukraine president in a TV series called Servant of the People, defeated conservative incumbent Petro Poroshenko in the Ukrainian presidential election by a crushing margin of 73% to 24%.

In his inaugural address in May, Zelensky dissolved parliament for early elections on July 21; these had been scheduled to occur in late October. 225 of the 450 seats were elected by national proportional representation with a 5% threshold, and the remaining 225 by single member electorates. Owing to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, 26 electorates did not vote.

Zelensky’s Servant of the People party won 124 of the 225 seats from proportional representation, with the next highest party winning just 37 seats. Servant of the People won 130 of the 199 electorates that could vote, for a total of 254 of the 424 members returned. Even if the Crimean electorates are included, Servant of the People won a convincing majority. Zelensky supports the Ukraine becoming a member of the European Union and NATO.

Conservative majority slightly reduced in Japan’s upper house elections

Elections for 124 of the 245 Japanese upper house seats were held on July 21 for a six-year term. The conservative LDP won 57 of these 124 seats and their Komeito allies won 14 seats, for an overall LDP/Komeito total of 71 seats. The centre-left Democratic Party was the next highest, but with just 17 seats.

Overall, the LDP and Komeito hold a clear majority of 141 of the 245 upper house seats, though this was down nine seats The Democratic Party holds just 32 seats. The LDP and Komeito combined hold 314 of the 465 lower house seats after easily winning the October 2017 election; the next election is due by October 2021.

Right wins Greek election; left wins Turkish Istanbul mayoral re-election

In Greek elections, 250 of the 300 parliamentary seats are awarded proportionally with a 3% threshold. The remaining 50 seats are given en bloc to the party winning more votes than any other party. This “majority bonus” system has been repealed, but this change will not occur until the next election, and the new government could undo the repeal.

At the election held on July 7, the conservative New Democracy (ND) won 158 of the 300 seats (up 83 since the September 2015 election), the far-left SYRIZA 86 (down 59), the social democratic KINAL 22 (up five) and the Communists 15 (steady). Two new parties – the pro-Russian Greek Solution and the far-left MeRA25 – won ten and nine seats respectively. ND will have a 16-seat majority in the new parliament.

The biggest loser was the extreme right Golden Dawn, which missed the 3% threshold and lost all its 18 seats.

Vote shares were 39.9% ND (up 11.8%), 31.5% SYRIZA (down 3.9%), 8.1% KINAL (up 1.7%), 5.3% Communists (down 0.3%), 3.7% Greek Solution, 3.4% MeRA25 and 2.9% Golden Dawn (down 4.1%). It is the ND’s highest vote share since 2007, and the first majority Greek government since 2009.

The majority bonus gave ND its majority. Without those 50 seats, ND would have won 108 of the 250 proportionally allocated seats, and would have been 18 seats short of a majority with other parties mostly left-leaning. As SYRIZA won the majority bonus in 2015, the ND and SYRIZA seat changes are much bigger than they would otherwise be.

Greek politics was once dominated by ND and the social democratic PASOK. In 2009, PASOK won 160 of the 300 seats on 44% of the votes. The global financial crisis ended this two party dominance, with PASOK winning just 41 seats and 13% in May 2012 as SYRIZA gained 12% to rise to 17%. SYRIZA then came second in June 2012 with 27%.

SYRIZA formed its first government after the January 2015 election and retained office in September 2015 as PASOK almost disappeared. PASOK is now part of the KINAL alliance.

The Greek economy grew 1.3% in the year to March 2019 as it recovers from the financial crisis. But the unemployment rate is still 18%, and this probably explains why SYRIZA was defeated: although the economy is recovering, it has not recovered enough.

Left wins Istanbul mayoral election after re-vote

Local government elections were held in Turkey on March 31. The conservative AKP and its ally, the far-right MHP, combined won 50.0% of the national vote. The social democratic CHP won 29.8%, the secularist IYI won 7.8% and the Kurdish HDP 4.5%.

Overall, this election was a strong performance by the AKP under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been either the PM or President since 2003. However, the AKP lost mayoral elections in the cities of Ankara and Istanbul to the CHP. In Ankara, the CHP’s winning margin was 3.8%, but it was just 0.16% in Istanbul.

Owing to the closeness of the Istanbul vote, the AKP challenged in court, and the result was annulled, with a new election scheduled for June 23. At this re-election, the CHP mayoral candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu, won by a far larger margin than originally (54.2-45.0, a 9.2% margin).

This election was seen as a blow to Erdoğan, who had begun his political career by winning the Istanbul mayoralty in 1994. In general, voters dislike new elections caused by a party’s unwillingness to accept a close defeat, and will punish parties requesting such elections.

Recent elections have shown a pattern of cities trending towards the left, while regional areas tend to the right. In that light, the losses of Ankara and Istanbul are not a shock, and there is a great deal of Turkey outside the big cities.

Left wins Danish election; new Israeli election; German Greens surge to tie for lead; Left gains in Tas upper house

The Danish election was held on June 5. There are 179 parliamentary seats – 175 in Denmark proper, and two each in Faroe Islands and Greenland. All seats are elected by proportional representation with a 2% threshold.

In Denmark, the Social Democrats won 48 of the 175 seats (up one since the 2015 election), the conservative Venstre 43 (up nine), the far-right People’s Party 16 (down 21), the Social Liberals 16 (up eight), the Socialist People’s Party 14 (up seven), the Red-Green Alliance 13 (down one), the Conservative People’s Party 12 (up six) and the environmental Alternative five (down four). Two other right-wing parties won four seats each, and three more right-wing parties missed the 2% threshold.

Red bloc parties (Social Democrats, Liberals, Socialists and Red-Greens) won 91 of the 175 Denmark seats (up 15), while blue bloc parties won 79 seats (down 11). If the Alternative is counted with the left, left-wing parties won in Denmark by 96 seats to 79. Right-wing parties that missed the threshold slightly assisted the left.

Left-wing parties won three of four seats in Faroe Islands and Greenland, so the left overall has a 99 seat to 80 majority.

Major Danish parties (Social Democrats and Venstre) have adopted much of the anti-immigration rhetoric of the People’s Party, partly explaining that party’s steep fall. As a result, the Social Democrats may have difficulty forming a coalition government with the more left-wing parties that dislike anti-immigrant policies.

New Israeli election after Netanyahu fails to form a government

At the April 9 Israeli election, right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won 35 of the 120 Knesset seats, tieing for most seats with the left-leaning Blue and White. With right-wing parties that had formed the last government, the right had 65 seats, a clear majority. It was assumed that Netanyahu had won his fourth successive term.

However, there was a dispute over conscription for ultra-Orthodox Jewish students. Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the nationalist far-right Yisrael Beiteinu, wanted this conscription, while the Orthodox Jewish parties, Shas and UTJ, were opposed. Netanyahu needed all three parties to reach a majority. Shas and UTJ had 16 seats combined, while Yisrael Beiteinu had five seats. But without Yisrael Beiteinu, Netanyahu had just 60 seats, one short of a majority.

As a result of this dispute over conscription, the deadline for Netanyahu to form a government expired on May 29. The Knesset was dissolved shortly after midnight May 30, and new elections will be held on September 17.

Polls so far show a close contest between the governing parties led by Likud, and the opposing parties including Yisrael Beiteinu. But Yisrael Beiteinu will never back a left-wing government.

German Greens surge to tie CDU/CSU after European elections

At the German European elections on May 26, the conservative CDU/CSU parties won 29 of the 96 seats (down five since 2014), the Greens 21 (up 11), the Social Democrats 16 (down 11), the far-right AfD 11 (up four), the far-left Left five (down two) and the economically liberal FDP five (up two).

Probably partly as a result of their strong performance at the European elections, the Greens have surged into a tie with the CDU/CSU in German federal polling. The two most recent polls, taken after the European elections, have the Greens one point ahead and one point behind the CDU/CSU. The Greens and CDU/CSU are in the mid to high 20’s, while the normal major left party, the Social Democrats, have slumped to just 13%, damaged by their continuing participation in the Grand Coalition government with the CDU/CSU.

Left gained a seat in Tasmanian upper house elections on May 4

Every May, two or three of Tasmania’s 15 upper house seats are up for election for six-year terms. This year’s elections, held on May 4, occurred in Pembroke, Montgomery and Nelson. Labor and the Liberals easily retained their seats in Pembroke and Montgomery respectively, with over 58% of the two party vote against the other major party.

Ten candidates stood in Nelson, and the Liberals were first on primary votes with 23.7%, followed by left-wing independent Vica Bayley on 15.9%, another left-wing independent, Meg Webb, on 13.8%, ex-Labor independent Madeleine Ogilvie on 12.6% and the Greens on 11.1%.

On Ogilvie’s preferences, Webb moved ahead of Bayley. When Bayley’s preferences were distributed, Webb defeated the Liberals by an emphatic 59-41 margin.

According to analyst Kevin Bonham, the retiring incumbent in Nelson was a moderate conservative independent who had been president of the upper house since his re-election in 2013. Webb is a prominent campaigner for poker machine reform. So this result was a gain for the left in Tasmania. That gave Labor and left-wing independents nine of the 15 Tasmanian upper house seats.

Both Pembroke and Nelson are urban fringe seats around Hobart, while Montgomery is a northern Tasmanian rural/regional seat. At the federal election, the Liberals gained the northern Tasmanian seats of Bass and Braddon from Labor, but struggled in the rest of Tasmania.

UK’s Brexit debacle could lead to Labour landslide; Greens, not far right, surge in Germany

UK PM Theresa May has done a deal with the European Union regarding the UK’s exit from the European Union (Brexit).  However, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned on November 15 as he disagreed with the deal, and other ministers have also quit the government.  The deal will be finalised at a special European Summit on November 25, and will then need to be ratified by the UK Parliament.

The Conservatives govern in minority, with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).  The DUP will not support the Brexit deal as they disagree with the Irish backstop arrangement.  Hard Brexiteers think the deal a betrayal of Britain, and are also likely to vote it down.

The major opposition parties – Labour, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats – will also vote against the deal.  In Labour’s case, they want to force an immediate general election.  The Lib Dems and SNP will oppose because they do not accept the premise of “no deal” vs May’s deal, and want Brexit called off.

There may be a few Labour rebels who will cross the floor to vote for May’s deal as they fear a “no deal”, but these will be more than compensated for by Conservative hard Brexiteers, hard Remainers, and the DUP.  The UK House of Commons is likely to reject May’s deal.

However, while Conservative rebels will vote against May’s deal, they are unlikely to vote for a formal no-confidence motion, the only way an early election can be held without the government’s consent.  Any Labour proposal to change Brexit would run into the same problem.

On March 29, 2019, the UK will leave the European Union, with or without a deal.  A no-deal Brexit is likely to greatly damage the UK economy, and the Conservatives are likely to be blamed for this damage.  Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was written off before the 2017 election, but forced the Conservatives into a minority government.  If a no-deal Brexit crashes the UK economy, Corbyn is likely to lead Labour to a landslide victory at the next general election.

The next election is not due until 2022, but, if the economic damage from a no deal Brexit is great enough, moderate Conservatives may consider a “socialist” government better than the UK’s economic collapse.  In such a circumstance, Labour could win a no-confidence motion, and force an election.

A source for this section is Stephen Bush of the New Statesman’s Morning Call email (though it is more like Evening Call in Melbourne).

The Greens are surging in Germany, not the far-right AfD

At the September 2017 German election, the combined conservative Union parties won 32.9%, the Social Democrats 20.5%, the far-right AfD 12.6%, the pro-business Free Democrats 10.7%, the Left party 9.2% and the Greens 8.9%.  In March 2018, the Social Democrats and Union parties formed a grand coalition government, the third time in the past fourterms such a right/left government had been formed.

Both major parties have lost support, with the Union parties falling to 26.4% in Wikipedia’s poll aggregate, and the Social Democrats to just 14.4%.  However, the Greens have been easily the biggest benificiary, not the AfD.  Greens’ support has surged to 21.0%, while AfD support has increased much less to 15.0%.

The Social Democrats’ 20.5% in 2017 was already the lowest they had polled at a general election since the Second World War, and their support has continued to drop, probably due to the grand coalition.  The Greens are likely to be the biggest left-wing party at the next German election.

At the October 2018 Bavarian state election, the Greens were second with 17.6%, up 9.0% since 2013.  Both the Social Union and Social Democrats suffered drops of over 10%.  The AfD, which did not contest the previous Bavarian election, won 10.2%.

Spanish conservative government falls, Italian populist government formed

The December 2015 and June 2016 Spanish elections both produced inconclusive results.  Neither the right-wing parties (the Popular Party and the new Citizens’ party) nor the left-wing parties (the Socialists and the new Podemos) won enough lower house seats for a right or left majority.  In October 2016, incumbent Popular Party PM Mariano Rajoy won a confidence vote after the Socialists abstained.

On June 1, Rajoy lost a confidence vote by 180 votes to 169, following a corruption scandal that involved members of his party.   Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez became the new PM.

However, with only 84 of the 350 lower house seats, the Socialists will find it difficult to legislate.  Furthermore, the Popular Party controls the upper house, which is elected by First Past the Post, while the lower house uses rough proportional representation.

The next Spanish election is not due until 2020, but it could be held earlier.  The Citizens wanted a snap election, as they hold a lead in current polls.


In Italy, almost three months after the March 4 election, a coalition government was formed between two populist parties: the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League.  Combined, both parties have majorities in both chambers of the Italian Parliament.  Five Star has nearly twice as many seats in both chambers as the League, so they are the senior partner in the coalition.

There was a last-minute hitch when the Italian President refused the nomination of the Finance Minister, as the nominee was Eurosceptic.  However, the League and Five Star Movement selected a different nominee who was acceptable to the President.