Four questions for Sunday’s North Rhine-Westphalia state elections

Voters in Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, go to the polls on Sunday, May 13, to elect a new Landtag, the state parliament of NRW.

Politics in NRW, home to nearly 18 million Germans, is often seen as a barometer of German federal politics — it falls in the one-time industrial heartland of Germany, and the state lack neither the leftward tilt of the former East Germany nor the rightward tilt of Bavaria in Germany’s south.  State elections in NRW in 1995 foreshadowed the federal election of Gerhard Schröder, just as NRW elections in 2005 foreshadowed the success of current German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Barring any major surprises, however, the current government headed by a “Red-Green” coalition of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (the Social Democratic Party) and Die Grünen (the Green Party) under NRW premier Hannelore Kraft will improve on its success from the 2010 NRW legislative election.

The SPD has consistently led polls with around 37% to 40% of the vote to just 30% to 33% for the Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union) of Merkel and Norbert Röttgen, who is running against Kraft in the NRW election and who also serves as the federal deputy of the CDU and the environmental minister in Merkel’s government in Berlin.  Early elections were called in March, after the Freie Demokratische Partei (Free Democrats) caused the government’s budget to fail — rather than abstaining from the vote, it opposed the budget, thereby resulting in snap elections.

Given that the CDU has never been expected to win the state election on Sunday, it is unlikely to spur any crisis for Merkel at the federal level, but that doesn’t mean the election won’t have an impact on federal elections — with a German general election on the horizon in 2013, here are four key questions about the NRW election, each of which could ripple through federal politics: Continue reading Four questions for Sunday’s North Rhine-Westphalia state elections

FLN wins Algerian election; Islamist ‘Green Alliance’ coalition alleges fraud after weak third-place finish

The first news of an election result from Thursday’s Algerian parliamentary elections has trickled in.

It appears that the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, or FLN) has won 220 of the 462 seats in the parliament.

The National Rally for Democracy, the party of Algeria’s current prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia, won second place with 68 seats, giving the government a comfortable majority at a time of incredible disenchantment within Algeria.

The alliance of Algeria’s top Islamist parties, the so-called ‘Green Alliance’, won third place with just 48 seats, fewer seats than the parties previously held in the prior parliament, even though the number of seats in Algeria’s parliament has been expanded by 73 seats.

The Socialist Forces Front appears to have won 21 seats (it currently had no representation) and Louisa Hanoune’s Worker’s Party has won 20 seats (down from 26 in the previous assembly) — both are leftist, secular parties.  No other party won seats in double digits.

Color me skeptical, but I have doubts about just how free and fair the elections were on the basis of a result that gives the government a comfortable majority — the government also claims that turnout has been just under 45%, which is significantly higher than the 2007 election and after a campaign noted for massive apathy about the efficacy of Thursday’s vote.  The Green Alliance has already alleged widespread fraud on the basis of its own observations.

The FLN has ruled Algeria since 1962, and is itself a manifestation of the resistance group that fought for independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Algeria’s bloody war against France.  It is the ossified party of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has attempted to use the parliamentary election as a showcase of limited reforms that he has claimed have led to a more open Algeria in the face of ‘Arab spring’ protests in the Middle East, protests that have forced three longtime dictators out of power in North Africa since January 2011.  Continue reading FLN wins Algerian election; Islamist ‘Green Alliance’ coalition alleges fraud after weak third-place finish

Kouvelis refuses to join unity Greek government without SYRIZA; Samaras attacks Tsipras

So the latest in the Greek drama over forming a coalition government is vaguely predictable.

Yesterday’s signs of an early breakthrough between PASOK (under the leadership of Evangelos Venizelos) and the Democratic Left (under the leadership of Fotis Kouvelis) crumbled today after it became clear that Kouvelis’s idea of a unity government must include the more radical SYRIZA (under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras).

Any unity government would also have to feature New Democracy (under the leadership of Antonis Samaras), which, as the top vote-winner in Sunday’s election, will hold 108 seats in the Hellenic parliament.

But as I noted yesterday, New Democracy and SYRIZA are simply too far apart in their approaches to the bailout in order to form any viable coalition.

Indeed, if any broad pro-bailout coalition were possible, Samaras would have likely formed it when he had the first opportunity to form a government earlier this week.  If any broad anti-austerity coalition were possible, Tsipras, whose SYRIZA finished a strong second in Sunday’s election would have likely formed it as well.

Meanwhile, Samaras has attacked Tsipras and SYRIZA in a lively forecast of the right’s attack in any future election campaign.  With Sunday’s election behind us, the battle lines are clearly drawn, and a new election will be a clearer showdown between the Samaras view and the Tsipras view — Samaras will run as the champion of austerity, arguing that it’s the only way to guarantee Greece’s continued membership in the eurozone; Tsipras will run as the champion of renegotiating Greece’s position, arguing that the current deal is strangling any chance of economic growth in Greece.

If the talks crumble, as expected, Greece’s president will bring together the top party leaders for one last attempt to implore a national unity government; if that fails, the next option will be new elections in June — polls show that new elections would find Tsipras’s hand strengthen and the anti-austerity left in a much clearer position to form a government.