Should Capriles automatically get a second shot at Venezuela’s presidency?


Venezuela’s now-acting president Nicolás Maduro is tending to affairs of state today, including a funeral for the late president Hugo Chávez on Friday, and making sure that his longtime Venezuelan predecessor’s death doesn’t result in any turbulence.Venezuela Flag Icon

But as Francisco Toro, of the always-insightful Caracas Chronicles writes today in The New York Times, politics has not stopped simply because the 14-year leader has died:

And now, Chávez’s hand-picked successor is telling the man’s grieving followers that we — those who disagree with him — are responsible for the illness that took his life.

Within hours of the president’s death being announced, gangs of motorcycle-riding Chávez supporters burned down an encampment where opposition-minded students had been demanding that the government tell the truth about his condition. Rumors of riots circulated feverishly on Twitter throughout Tuesday evening, still unverified.

Maduro, for now at least, seems to have firmly grasped control of the government, including the immediate support of the Venezuelan military, and the parallel power structures of Chávez’s governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela).

Foreign minister Elías Jaua (former vice president), who announced that Maduro was taking over as acting president, seems to be on board the Maduro bandwagon, and Cuba has long thought to have favored Maduro as Chávez’s successor (incidentally, one of the most fascinating aspects of the past three months and the months ahead is the role that Cuba plays in Venezuelan governance).

There’s a chance that Diosdado Cabello, the speaker of the National Assembly, could attempt to win the presidential nomination, but that seems unlikely, at least today. Time will tell.

Under the Venezuelan constitution, Maduro must call an election within 30 days of Chávez’s death but, as Diego Moya-Ocampos noted last month in Americas Quarterly, it’s not clear whether Maduro must call the election to be held within 30 days or whether Maduro must make the announcement within 30 days.

In one instance, Venezuela faces a presidential election on or before April 5.  In another instance, Venezuela faces an election anytime over the course of 2013, conceivably, so long as it is announced before April 5.  My first instinct is that Maduro will want to schedule the election as quickly as possible — to take advantage of lingering sympathy for Chávez and the legacy of his ‘Bolivarian’ project, to subdue intraparty rivals such as Cabello and to avoid giving the opposition a chance to develop support over a long campaign, especially at a time when so many problems are so visible: Venezuela’s economy remains in shaky condition, shortages and outages are commonplace and the country’s violent crime remains, as ever, some of the worst in the Western hemisphere.

Chávez’s former opponent, Henrique Capriles (pictured above), is assumed to become the candidate who will challenge Maduro in the upcoming presidential election to determine Chávez’s successor — he was the candidate of the unified opposition umbrella group, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), in the October 2012 presidential election.

There are a lot of strong reasons to make that assumption: Continue reading Should Capriles automatically get a second shot at Venezuela’s presidency?

How would Italian politics function under a ‘French’ electoral system?


Former center-right foreign minister Franco Frattini is far from the fray of Italian politics these days — he didn’t run in last week’s Italian elections and he’s currently a candidate to replace Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.France Flag IconItaly Flag Icon

Nonetheless, Frattini (pictured above) spoke in Washington yesterday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as well as to a small audience at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and amid a set of thoughtful remarks about Italy’s election and its post-vote gridlock, one remark stood out in particular — that Italy should revise its electoral law by adopting the system currently in use by France, a two-round system whereby deputies are elected in single-member constituencies.

When election results came in last Monday, despite pre-election polls showing that the broad centrosinistra (center-left) coalition headed by Pier Luigi Bersani would win, returns showed Bersani’s coalition doing poorer than expected.  The broad centrodestra (center-right) coalition headed by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and the anti-establishment, anti-austerity Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) founded by blogger and activist Beppe Grillo, both polled much better than expected — so much so that Italy now has a hung parliament. A centrist coalition headed by outgoing technocratic prime minister Mario Monti placed far behind in fourth place.

A ‘winner bonus’ for Bersani in Italy’s lower house, Camera dei Deputati (House of Deputies), based on the fact that his coalition (just barely) won a greater number of votes than any other coalition or party, means that the center-left will command a 340-seat absolute majority in the Camera.

But because seats are awarded on a regional basis to Italy’s upper house, the Senato (Senate), no one emerged with anything close to a majority — and it became clear that even a widely mooted Bersani-Monti coalition would fall far short of a majority.

So election law reform has become a top-shelf issue in the wake of last week’s elections, not only because of the inconclusive result last week, but because it’s one of a handful of items that both Grillo and Bersani, the leader of the center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), agree upon, so reform could be a key element of any agenda that a short-term Bersani-Grillo alliance might enact before a new election.

Even members of Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom) want to reform the election law, and even Roberto Calderoli, who pushed the law through the Italian parliament, has called it a ‘porcata,’ a pig’s dinner.

But agreeing that the election law is a mess and agreeing on a new law are two different things.

So what have Italy’s three most recent voting systems — the postwar open-list proportional representation system, the mixed, mostly first-past-the post system adopted in 1993, and the closed-list proportional representation system (with a ‘winner bonus’) adopted in 2005 — historically meant for stability or chaos in Italy’s parliament?

How does the French system vary from Italy’s current system?

And how would a French system work in Italy?

Continue reading How would Italian politics function under a ‘French’ electoral system?

The latest on Kenya’s election results: IEBC targets Friday finale


Issack Hassan, the chairman of Kenya’s Independent Boundaries and Elections Commission (pictured above) has now given a briefing on the state of Kenya’s less-than-optimal vote-counting process.kenya

The IEBC’s automatic electronic updates had slowed to a crawl on the second full day after Monday’s election, and Hassan admitted that the results have not been announced as rapidly as Kenyans have expected amid multiple technical glitches.

Hassan stated that the IEBC would abandon the electronic process in favor of manual counting, and rather defensively called on all of the parties and candidates to be patient, to allow the IEBC to do its work and not to escalate tensions.

“We want to plead with the political parties… and the presidential candidates and their agents to remember the code of conduct and allow the Commission to do its work.”

Earlier in the day, the IEBC announced final results from Kenyans abroad — Raila Odinga won 1224 votes to 951 for Uhuru Kenyatta.

By law, the IEBC must announce results within seven days, so a Friday announcement is not necessarily a failure under Kenya’s election law.

But given that the 2007 elections were followed by delays — especially, like this time, by an initial partial release of results from Mount Kenya and Kikuyu strongholds, to the exclusion of the coastal and western provinces where Odinga ran strongest in 2007 — and is expected to run in 2013 — have only made the past 48 hours even more tense.

In addition, the presence of a high amount of spoiled votes (up to 7% of the total previously announced in the electronic tally), and the IEBC’s decision that such votes will ‘count’ toward whether a candidate has won a 50% ‘absolute majority’ has been met with jeers from Kenyatta’s Jubilee alliance.

First Past the Post: March 6


East and South Asia

Rahul Gandhi, the heir to the most celebrated family in Indian politics, claims he has no designs on the prime ministership in 2014 (though he remains by far the most likely candidate to lead the ruling Congress Party’s campaign next year).

Martin Wolf considers plans to boost inflation in Japan.

North America

The U.S. government kindly reminds its U.N. negotiators not to show up blotto.

Los Angeles, the second-most populous U.S. city, chooses a new mayor.

Student tuition protests return to Montréal.

Latin America / Caribbean

Francisco Toro considers the relationship between Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela and Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

The Nation considers Chávez’s legacy.

More on Venezuela’s transition ahead.

Argentina continues to refuse the legitimacy of next week’s Falkland Islands status referendum.  [Spanish]

México’s ruling PRI revises its constitution to allow for private investment in the Mexican energy industry.

Grenada gets a new cabinet.

A Central American Schengen zone (at least, between Panamá and Costa Rica)?

Sub-Saharan Africa

Zimbabwe bars any foreign observers from its March 16 constitutional referendum.

Kenya’s Jubilee alliance doesn’t agree that the unusually large amount of rejected ballots should count in determining whether a candidate has won a 50% ‘absolute majority.’

More on those spoiled ballots in Kenya.


German chancellor Angela Merkel’s fine line on gay rights.

A closer look at Italian president Giorgio Napolitano (once described by Henry Kissinger as ‘his favorite communist’).

Europe and the United Kingdom are again at odds — this time over capping banking bonuses.

Catalan premier Artur Mas is forming a united political front against Spain’s federal government on Catalunya’s sovereignty.

Russia and Former Soviet Union

Presidential runner-up Raffi Hovannisian is not letting up in his protests over alleged electoral fraud committed by president Serzh Sargsyan.

Moldova’s government gets a vote of no confidence.

Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s trial is once again delayed.

Middle East and North Africa

Israel’s haredi parties consider the costs of being forced into opposition.

The challenge that the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi face from Salafist and more conservative rivals.

Is al Qaeda becoming a problem in Lebanon?