BREAKING: ND leader Samaras unable to form coalition

From E Kathimerini:

Antonis Samaras, leader of Greece’s center-right New Democracy, has failed to form a governing coalition following Sunday’s Greek election.

”We did everything we could,” Samaras said. ”It was impossible (to form a government). I handed back the mandate.” Samaras, whose party won the biggest share of the vote in Sunday’s inconclusive election, was given the first chance to form an administration by President Karolos Papoulias.

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greece’s second-place party, SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left), will now have an opportunity to try to form a government, but the likelihood that he can build a coalition is even more remote, and a second election is looking increasingly likely.

Algerian election: a battle for turnout

Shortly after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime fell in Tunisia in January 2011, amplifying the ‘Arab Spring’ revolts to a global scream, the next logical candidate for uprising was not Egypt or Libya or Yemen or Syria or Bahrain.

It was neighboring Algeria.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika had been in office as Algeria’s president since 1999 — and for much of that time, the country had been subject to ’emergency rule’ following a bloody civil war in Algeria that began after the Islamic Salvation Front won Algeria’s first free parliamentary election in 1991 and a military coup annulling the election result.  Just as in neighboring Tunisia, young Algerians were protesting against unemployment and rising food costs, and also as in Tunisia, a wave of self-immolations in protest of the government met with escalating crowds and outrage against Bouteflika.  Algeria was about as great a candidate for grassroots-led regime change as any other country in the Middle East and Maghreb.

Yet Bouteflika remains in power and was never seriously in danger of losing it.  Some commentators suggested that Algerians were wary of toppling a government and risking yet another civil war after the carnage of the 1990s.  In addition, Bouteflika deployed a cannier mix of carrots and sticks (police came out in force to contain the protests, especially after Hosni Mubarak’s regime fell in Egypt) than either Ben Ali or Mubarak in his own attempts to hold onto power in 2011.  Most notably, Bouteflika agreed to end Algeria’s 19-year ’emergency rule’, raised salaries for Algerian workers and took steps to lower the price of food in Algeria.

Bouteflika also permitted the existence of new political parties, many of which will contest Algeria’s May 10 parliamentary election, which is expected to be Algeria’s first free election since the fateful 1991 elections that sparked Algeria’s civil war.  Bouteflika has also expanded the number of members of parliament by 73 seats for a total of 462, all of which will be up for grabs on Thursday.  While the parliament’s powers are slim compared to those of the president, it does appear that Bouteflika is making good on his promise of opening Algeria to more democracy.

This time around, though, the threat is whether enough of Algeria’s over 20 million voters will actually turn out to participate (note that over 70% of the country’s 35 million population are younger than 30 years old).  The joke from Algeria’s leading political cartoonist Dilem yesterday was that Algerians were passionate about the election — the one to Algeria’s north between Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. Continue reading Algerian election: a battle for turnout

Serbia marks ‘normal’ election: Tadić, Nikolić head to presidential runoff

As voters in France and Greece upended the pro-austerity front of the European Union Sunday, elections in Serbia confirmed the normalization of a country that just two decades ago was one of the most dangerous belligerents in the world.

Serbia went to the polls Sunday for both presidential and parliamentary elections in what is being billed as the first normalized election since the fall of Slobodan Milošević in 2000.  Although the new government is not yet clear, it will be certain to be a pro-European government dedicated to furthering Serbia’s candidacy — formally granted in March — as a member of the European Union.

In the presidential election, incumbent Boris Tadić finished first with around 26.7% of the vote, with Tomislav Nikolić just behind with around 25.5%.  The two will face off in a runoff vote to be held on May 20.  Tadić, a member of the center-left / progressive Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS) that has governed Serbia since the fall of Milošević, was first elected president in 2004 and is seeking a third term.  Tadić has twice defeated Nikolić in prior presidential elections, with just over 53% in 2004 and just over 50% in 2008.  Nikolić is a member of the right-wing Serbian Progressive Party (Српска напредна странка / SNS).

Although the SPS is more pro-Russia than the DS, it has worked to convince Serbian voters that it backs the country’s EU membership.  Indeed, Nick Thorpe writes for the BBC that the “old split between pro-European and pro-Russian parties, is over,” with most major parties supporting EU membership.

Instead of East-West foreign policy orientation, the election has turned on dissatisfaction with the DS amid Serbia’s poor economic performance.  Unemployment has jumped to over 24%, while economic growth has stalled to near-recession levels in 2012.  Serbia’s public debt has ballooned and its currency, the dinar, has lost 30% in value.

In the parliamentary elections, Nikolić’s SNS emerged with the largest vote, with 24% to just 22% for Tadić’s DS — although the SNS had been projected to win the election, its margin was expected to be wider.  The election’s big surprise was the success of the Socialist Party of Serbia (Социјалистичка партија Србије / SPS), which won a strong third-place finish with 14.5%.  The SPS, a vaguely leftist and vaguely nationalist party that Milošević himself founded, will now become the kingmaker in Serbian parliamentary politics.  SNS is projected to win 73 seats in the 250-seat national assembly, with 67 seats for the DS and 44 seats for the SPS.

The SPS leader, Ivica Dačić, a one-time ally of Milošević , has worked to pull the SPS back into the mainstream of Serbian politics in the post-Milošević era.  Dačić is now widely seen as the likeliest candidate for prime minister, in either a coalition with the DS or with the SPS.  Dačić has said that he wants to hold talks first with the DS.  Dačić finished third in the presidential election, with around 17%, and his endorsement may well be decisive in that rade as well.

Final results are expected to be announced on Thursday.

Putin inaugurated for third term, announces Medvedev as PM, amid Moscow protests

Vladimir Putin was sworn in as president today, amid protests across Moscow, following his election on March 4 in a vote widely seen as problematic and fraudulent.

Putin, whose term will run through 2018, also appointed former president Dmitri Medvedev as his prime minister — the appointment had been expected, but was not entirely certain.  Medvedev served as prime minister previously under Putin until his election in 2008 as president.  Putin, in turn, had served as prime minister during the entirety of Medvedev’s presidency.

Perhaps the more important story, however, are ongoing protests in Moscow, which flared over the weekend and drew tens of thousands in protest of Putin’s inauguration:

A number of demonstrators were injured by riot police, who wielded batons in clearing crowds from Bolotnaya Ploshchad, the site of a planned opposition rally Sunday evening to protest Monday’s presidential inauguration. Seventeen people requested medical care for injuries sustained during the event, a hospital source told Interfax.  Around 450 protesters and opposition leaders Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov were arrested, police said….

Despite the event’s ambitious name, “March of Millions,” organizers did not expect Sunday’s event to draw the estimated tens of thousands who attended.  City Hall had given advance approval for 5,000 participants to take part in the march  and rally.

Protestors came out in force after last December’s blatantly fraudulent parliamentary elections, as well as in the days leading up to and immediately following the March 4 presidential vote, although a show of force on the streets of Moscow on March 5 had appeared to stall the momentum from any such protests — until this weekend.

Ironically, as police were clashing with protestors who were demanding a more democratic Russia, Putin promised in his short inauguration speech to ‘strengthen Russian democracy.’


Monsieur President: Hollande era begins in France

France24 this morning has a concise biography — complete with photos — of the man of the hour, France’s newly elected president François Hollande:

[Hollande’s] political rise to the country’s top post has been slow and steady, with the French media portraying him as “Monsieur Normal” – an easygoing, everyday man. Contrast that with the glamour-struck Nicolas Sarkozy, who earned the nickname “hyper-president” during his five years in office.

If Hollande’s victory has a fabled quality, it surely mirrors Aesop’s “The Hare and The Tortoise”, with the steady, shelled creature finally outpacing the hyperactive hare.

International audiences are probably more familiar with his former partner, Ségolène Royal, who unsuccessfully ran against Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential poll. For those who knew him during the 2012 campaign trail – and that includes his comrades on the left – Hollande was the butt of snide, if good-natured, monikers, including “Flanby” (a wobbly custard) and “capitaine du pedalo,’ or the captain of a pedal boat.

But in the course of his bid for presidency, Hollande emerged as a statesman-like figure, a change that included an image makeover, complete with a 10 kilo weight loss and designer glasses. Continue reading Monsieur President: Hollande era begins in France

Greek election results: Samaras and ND to have first chance to form government

A day after an election that scrambled Greek — and potentially, European — politics, party leaders are surveying the new reality of Greek parliamentary politics in search of a workable governing coalition.

The center-right New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία), which finished in first place, and which accordingly won the greatest number of seats in the Hellenic Parliament.  Under Greece’s new election law, 250 seats are distributed by proportional representation, while an additional 50 seats are awarded to the party with the highest support — even if, as in this election, the “winner” gets less than 19% of the total votes cast.

Nonetheless, even with its skewed number of seats, New Democracy is projected to hold just 108 seats, far below what it would need to form a government.   Accordingly, ND leader Antonis Samaras will have the first shot of forming a coalition — and will attempt today to build one among pro-euro and pro-bailout parties. Continue reading Greek election results: Samaras and ND to have first chance to form government