Tag Archives: reform party

How Trump could become a national-level version of Jesse Ventura

Before Trump waged his insurgent candidacy, professional wrestler Jesse Ventura won election as governor of Minnesota. (Reuters)

How about this for a black swan?

Americans haven’t elected a take-no-prisoners executive bound to drag the country into a hard-right populist dystopia.

Instead, they’ve elected a third-party-style insurgent (albeit from within the Republican Party) who will struggle to make allies in either congressional party and fizzle out after four years of smoke, but not a lot of noise — or economic or policy accomplishments.

It already happened — in Minnesota. In 1998, voters weary of grey establishmentarians, elected instead the flamboyant Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler. Christening himself as Jesse ‘the Mind’ Ventura, he narrowly clipped Republican Norm Coleman (then St. Paul mayor) and Democrat Skip Humphrey (the son of the former vice president). But Ventura, in his one lonely term as governor, transformed a $4 billion budget surplus into a $4.5 billion deficit and otherwise spent most of his time fighting with the media and with members of the state legislature.

Ventura, who ran and governed on the quirky Reform Party ticket founded in 1996 by Ross Perot, lent his support in 2000 to Trump’s nascent bid for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination. Trump eventually lost to the anti-trade, anti-immigrant conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.

Far from a lapse to 1930s-style authoritarianism, perhaps the Trump administration will be far more like a national version of the Ventura experiment. Trump has already squandered nearly a quarter of his first 100 days on distractions and controversy. 

Continue reading How Trump could become a national-level version of Jesse Ventura

Harper’s legacy is the birth of a modern 21st century Canadian conservatism

Outgoing prime minister Stephen Harper is the only leader that Canada’s modern Conservative Party has ever known. (Facebook)

Next week, for the first time since 2002, Stephen Harper will neither be Canada’s prime minister nor opposition leader. Canada Flag Icon

At the same time that Stephen Harper was on stage conceding defeat to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, he announced (via a statement) that he would indeed be stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party, a position that he has held since 2003 when the party first came into being.

In the days ahead, the Conservative Party will decide how to appoint a caretaker interim leader pending a full leadership election to choose the party’s second leader.

Harper leaves behind a mixed legacy, like any prime minister.

For Canada’s conservatives, Harper wasn’t just a three-term prime minister, though his nine-year tenure will be longer than all but five prime ministers in Canadian history. He’s the tribune who led the Canadian right out of the wilderness of opposition and the man who brought the Canadian west back into the national conversation that had focused too long on Toronto commercial matters, constitutional crises, bilingualism and appeasing the Quebeckers.

In retrospect, it’s amazing that it took just three years for Harper to take power after engineering the December 2003 merger between his Canadian Alliance, the upstart prairie and western movement that brought a more full-throated, US-style, socially conservative attitude to national politics, and the more troubled Progressive Conservative Party. By the 2000s, the PCs were a relic of the eastern elite, and the party never fully recovered from the 1993 election, when it lost all but two seats in the House of Commons.

Incredibly, as the Conservative Party looks to choose Harper’s successor in the weeks and months ahead, he is the only leader that the current Conservative Party has known — not counting, of course, the two living former Tory prime ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, neither of whom ever completely warmed to the Calgarian warrior from the west.


RELATED: Live-blogging Canada’s election results


At just 56 years old, Harper certainly didn’t look or act like a leader (or prime minister) in a hurry for retirement. He looked mostly like someone who believed, until too late, that leftist and moderate voters would split between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP), giving the Conservatives yet another path to government by plurality vote. To his misfortune (and to the NDP’s), that didn’t happen.

Post-election reports reveal that Harper was considering a pledge not to seek a fifth term after 2015. But having only won his first majority government in 2011, Harper might have easily stuck around to run for a fifth mandate if he’d survived October 19. But in shooting for a fourth consecutive term, Harper knew well that he was facing long odds attempting to repeat what only Conservative John Macdonald and Liberal Wilfrid Laurier accomplished before.

Coupled with the onset of a mild economic recession, it was always an uphill fight for Harper. He can walk away from the election result with his head held high, having remade Canadian conservatism and nudged Canada toward greater fiscal responsibility, more enthusiasm for free trade and presided over a generally more unified Canadian entity.  Continue reading Harper’s legacy is the birth of a modern 21st century Canadian conservatism

Singapore calls snap semicentennial elections


Fresh off the feel-good celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence from Malaysia, the rulinSingapore Flag Icong People’s Action Party (PAP) is moving up elections by more than a year to September 11 — just 17 days from now.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise, and a sometimes-divided political opposition has spent the summer mobilizing to prepare for the vote.

Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong is the son of Singapore’s longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew, who died at age 91 in March and is widely credited with Singapore’s transformation from a colonial-era trade hub (even 50 years ago, it wasn’t quite a sleepy backwater) into a major international financial center. Breakneck GDP growth in the last half of the 20th century, however, is slowing today, and critics argue that Lee Kuan Yew ran an authoritarian city-state with little freedom for speech, organization the press, political opposition or even, in many cases, individual expression.

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RELATED: Is Lee Kuan Yew’s role in Singapore’s rise overrated?

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As China’s economy sputters under the weight of a stock market crash, Singapore’s economy is already feeling the effects. Its GDP fell by an annualized 4% in the second quarter of 2015, and its annual GDP growth rate is now estimated to be between 2% and 2.5%, some of the weakest growth in the country’s post-independence history.

In the most recent election in May 2011, the PAP won just 60.14% of the vote, with the second-placed Workers’ Party of Singapore (WP) winning a mere 12.82%. Still, it was the worst showing for the PAP since it took power in 1959 — six years before independence, when Lee Kuan Yew enthusiastically embraced a role for Singapore within the Malaysian Federation.

In the fragile years after independence, first-generation Singaporeans were more willing to embrace the tradeoffs between freedom and economic growth. And Lee certainly delivered. On a nominal basis, Singapore has one of the world’s highest levels of GDP per capita — and, after Qatar and Australia, the third-highest in Asia. At over $56,000, it exceeds New Zealand, Hong Kong and even the United Arab Emirates. The political marketplace is far less mature. For example, though the country has first-world living standards, Freedom House ranks it as merely partly free, and Singapore ranked just 150th in Reporter Without Borders’s World Press Freedom Index last year — just lower than Burundi, Ethiopia, Russia, Afghanistan, Angola and Tajikistan.  Continue reading Singapore calls snap semicentennial elections

Estonian election results: Reform Party wins third term


Estonia’s parliamentary election proves what is becoming a nearly iron-clad thesis about Baltic politics: so long as social democratic parties in the Baltic States nurture ties with Moscow and pitch themselves to the narrow pool of ethnic Russian voters, centrist and center-right governments will continue to win elections and govern.estonia

So it was in Estonia on March 1, as it became clear that the center-right Eesti Reformierakond (Estonian Reform Party) would win its third consecutive national election, the first under its 35-year-old prime minister Taavi Rõivas (pictured above in Ukraine last year), who is expected to continue leading Estonia’s government.

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RELATED: Russian threat dominates Estonian election campaign

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Despite polls that showed that the center-left Eesti Keskerakond (Estonian Centre Party), led by former prime minister and Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar might emerge as the leading party, Reform bested the Centre Party by nearly 3%.

Nevertheless, both the Reform Party and its junior partner in government, the Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Erakond (Social Democratic Party), lost some ground — the two parties will, in aggregate, lose seven seats and six short of an absolute majority in the Riigikogu, Estonia’s 101-member unicameral parliament.

Estonia 2015 Riigikogu 2015

Luckily for Rõivas and the Reform Party, there are two new parties in the Estonian parliament, and one of them is a strong fit for a three-party coalition. The liberal Eesti Vabaerakond (Free Party), founded last September by Andres Herkel, an Estonian intellectual, could easily find common ground with Reform. Continue reading Estonian election results: Reform Party wins third term

Russian threat dominates Estonian election campaign


With the world’s attention on a political assassination in Moscow, voters in the former Soviet republic of Estonia go to the polls tomorrow, March 1, with the threat of Russian aggression looming on its eastern border. estonia

Three days ago, US troops, as part of NATO exercises, paraded in Narva, one of Estonia’s largest cities, resting on the Russian border, and Russian troops reciprocated with a similar show. Though it felt like a Cold War throwback, the demonstration highlights just how seriously Estonia, a member of NATO since 2004, and other NATO allies are taking the possibility of a Russian incursion in the Baltics.

Under that tense penumbra, voters will elect all 101 members of Estonia’s parliament, the Riigikogu, where the center-right  Eesti Reformierakond (Estonian Reform Party) currently controls the largest bloc of seats and governs in coalition with the centrist Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Erakond (Social Democratic Party).


Some polls show, however, that the center-left Eesti Keskerakond (Estonian Centre Party) narrowly leads the Reform Party, with the Social Democrats and the conservative opposition party, Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit (IRL, Pro Patria and Res Publica Union), trailing close by in third and fourth place.

It’s the first time that Estonia’s youthful new prime minister Taavi Rõivas (pictured above) will lead the Reform Party into an election. When longtime prime minister Andrus Ansip stepped down in March 2014 after nine years in office, the idea was that he would switch jobs with former Reform Party leader, prime minister and European commissioner Siim Kallas. That worked out for Ansip, who’s now Estonia’s representative to the European Commission with a ‘super-portfolio’ for the digital single market.

Kallas, however, was tripped up by a scandal dating to his days as Estonia’s central bank president in the 1990s, and he stepped out of consideration for the premiership. Other heavy hitters like former foreign minister Urmas Paet also demurred.  That meant that the challenge fell to the 35-year-old Rõivas, whose government experience included just two years as social affairs minister. Married to pop singer Luisa Värk, Rõivas has been a member of the Estonian parliament since 2007 and is generally seen as close to Ansip.

The Centre Party’s leader, Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, is nearly three decades older, and he served briefly from 1991 to 1992 as Estonia’s first independent prime minister. During the campaign, he’s made much of Rõivas’s relative inexperience. Continue reading Russian threat dominates Estonian election campaign

Latvia election results: center-right coalition set for reelection

latviareelecPhoto credit to LETA.

Basically, Latvia’s election turned out nearly as everyone imagined it would. Latvia has had a center-right government since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and it will do so again. latvia

A coalition of center-right parties, led by prime minister Laimdota Straujuma, will continue to govern Latvia, continuing the country’s cautious approach to budget discipline. Straujuma, a former agriculture minister, known as a tough negotiator among EU Circles, has won her first electoral mandate since becoming prime minister in January, and she will hope that her country’s low debt and higher economic growth in the years ahead can result in lower unemployment. Even as Russia shakes its sable against NATO, rattling nerves in all three Baltic state, there’s reason to believe that the worst of Latvia’s difficult past half-decade is over.

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RELATED: Latvian right hopes to ride Russia threat to reelection

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Though it endured a painful internal devaluation and a series of budget reforms over the last five years, Latvia entered the eurozone in January, and Straujuma’s predecessor, Valdis Dombrovsksis, who resigned late last year after the freak collapse of a supermarket roof near Riga, the capital, is set to become the European Commission’s next vice president for ‘the euro and social dialogue,’ making him one of the most important voices on setting EU economic and monetary policy over the next five years.


latvia saeima 14

The opposition Sociāldemokrātiskā Partija ‘Saskaņa’ (Social Democratic Party “Harmony,” which previously contested Latvian elections as the wider ‘Harmony Centre’ alliance), though it won the greatest number of seats in the Saeima, Latvia’s parliament, will be unlikely to find coalition partners in light of its role as the party of ethnic Russian interests and its cozy ties to Moscow and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Having lost seven seats from its pre-election total, the result will certainly be something of a setback for its leader, Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs, who had tried to emphasize the party’s social democratic nature, even as he offered sympathetic words with respect to  Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It follows a similarly poor showing in the May European parliamentary elections.

Continue reading Latvia election results: center-right coalition set for reelection

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 3)

Nearly a week after the European elections, the reverberations are still shaking the entire continent, on at least two levels — the consequences of the historic level of eurosceptic parties elected across Europe and in terms of the growing battle between the European Parliament and the European Council over electing the next European Commission president. European_Union

In the first part of a Suffragio series examining the results of the May 25 European parliamentary elections, I focused on the five most populous countries in the European Union: the United Kingdom and France, where eurosceptic parties won the greatest share of the vote; Germany, where chancellor Angela Merkel won another strong victory; Italy, where prime minister Matteo Renzi won a near-landslide mandate just three months into his premiership; and Spain, where both traditional parties lost support to a growing constellation of anti-austerity movements — so much so that Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the leader of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), Spain’s traditional center-left party, resigned

In the second part, I examined the results in nine more countries — Poland, Romania, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary and Sweden.

In the third and final part, I examine the results in the remaining 14 countries of the European Union. Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 3)

Who is Taavi Rõivas? A look at Estonia’s likely new prime minister


Last week, when Estonia’s nine-year prime minister Andrus Ansip stepped down, virtually everyone thought that Estonia’s European commissioner Siim Kallas (himself, briefly, a former prime minister) would step into Ansip’s shoes as the Eesti Reformierakond (Estonian Reform Party) prepares to put itself on a stronger footing for expected March 2015 elections.estonia

After all, Kallas helped found the Reform Party in the mid-1990s, served as a highly regarded president of Estonia’s central bank in the early 1990s, and held several posts in government before leaving for Brussels in 2004, where he’s amassed plenty of additional experience — as a vice president of the European Commission since 2010.

Instead, Kallas faced renewed controversy over $100 million in loan guarantees that he signed while central bank governor in 1994.  Moreover, the concept that Kallas could wage a shadow campaign for prime minister while still officially a member of the European Commission ruffled feathers in both Tallinn and Brussels — even more so in light of open rumors that Kallas and Ansip would simply trade jobs, with Ansip stepping into Kallas’s shoes at the Commission.

Kallas formally ruled out a return as prime minister on Wednesday, and the Reform party nominated instead Taavi Rõivas (pictured above), social affairs minister since just December 2012.  At age 34, he would be the youngest head of government in Europe, and notably, the first Estonian leader who was just a child when the Soviet Union collapsed — Estonia won its independence just five days short of Rõivas’s 12th birthday. Continue reading Who is Taavi Rõivas? A look at Estonia’s likely new prime minister

Considering Andrus Ansip’s legacy in Estonia


Earlier this week, Estonia’s prime minister Andrus Ansip stepped down after nine years leading the tiny Baltic country of just 1.3 million.estonia

His departure brings even more change to the Baltic states — Laimdota Straujuma became Latvia’s new prime minister in January following the resignation of Valdis Dombrovskis over the collapse of a supermarket roof near Riga, the Latvian capital, that killed 54 people.

Ansip and Dombrovskis share a lot in common, both in terms of politics and the policy trajectories of their governments.

Like Ansip, Dombrovskis stepped down having presided over difficult economic reforms that stabilized their country’s respective credit ratings and credibility with global debt markets and that helped unleash economic growth after the immediate downturn of the global economic crisis and the European debt crisis.  Both prime ministers, uncharacteristically, won reelection in the middle of implementing some fairly hefty budget cuts (enough to lower Estonian public debt to just 5.7% of GDP as of 2012) — Ansip most recently in the March 2011 elections, when Reform actually gained two seats (for a total of 33) in the 101-member Riigikogu, the Estonian parliament.

Ansip ushered his country into the eurozone in 2011, the first of the Baltic states to do so, and Dombrovskis’s government followed, with Latvia acceding to the eurozone on January 1 of this year.

Just as Latvia’s governing center-right Vienotība (Unity) faces a difficult election in October later this year, Ansip’s own center-right Eesti Reformierakond (Estonian Reform Party) faces a similarly difficult challenge in elections expected to take place in March 2015.  Continue reading Considering Andrus Ansip’s legacy in Estonia

Who is Laimdota Straujuma? Latvia’s likely first female prime minister.


On January 1, when Latvia celebrated its accession to the eurozone as the 18th member to embrace the single currency, it should have been a moment for Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis to celebrate shepherding his country into the core of Europe just barely two decades after its independence from the Soviet Union.latvia

Instead, Dombrovskis was counting the last days of his truncated tenure after the collapse of a supermarket roof in a suburb of Riga, the Latvian capital, killed 54 people.  Dombrovskis, the 42-year-old wunderkind economist, resigned as prime minister shortly after the tragedy, calling for an independent commission to investigate the incident and arguing that Latvia needed a new government in the wake of the accident.

Though it may have been an act of political integrity, Dombrovskis’s resignation came at a nadir for his shaky minority.  His party, the center-right Vienotība (Unity), placed third in local elections in June 2013, and disapproval was running high for his government, a coalition that also includes the more stridently right-wing Nacionālā apvienība (National Alliance) and the center-right Reformu partija (Reform Party).

Unity’s decision to nominate Laimdota Straujuma, the current agriculture minister, as its designate for prime minister is designed in part to boost the party’s chances at winning elections expected in October of this year.

The three parties that supported the Dombrovskis have indicated they will back Straujuma, and a fourth, Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība (ZZS, Union of Greens and Farmers), a union of Latvia’s green party and its agrarian party, will join them, along with three additional independent lawmakers.  That support will give Straujuma an immediate boost — while the previous coalition controlled just 50 seats in the 100-member Saeima, Latvia’s parliament, Straujuma’s government will command a 16-seat majority:


That means that when Latvian president Andris Bērziņš formally nominated Straujuma as prime minister, it all but assured that she will command a majority to become the country’s first female prime minister.

So who is Straujuma? And what challenges does she face in the months ahead?

Dombrovskis came to power in 2009 facing a contraction that amounted to 18% of Latvia’s GDP, and he’s presided over Latvia’s resurgence.  Latvia has achieved some of the highest GDP growth in Europe — 5.6% in 2012 and an estimated 4% in 2013.  That growth has come even while Dombrovskis implemented budget cuts to bring Latvia’s debt to one of the lowest levels in all of Europe and forced upon Latvia a sharp internal devaluation — the kinds of wage cuts that have allowed Latvia to become more competitive.  Even his push to join the eurozone was controversial, with nearly half the country opposing the move as recently as a month ago, notwithstanding the fact that the previous currency, the lats, was already tied to the euro.

Though it’s hard to miss the resemblance to German chancellor Angela Merkel, Straujuma comes to power as a former civil servant, and there’s no way to know if she’ll last nine months as head of government, let alone nine years.  As agriculture minister, she participated often in negotiations at the EU level over the Common Agricultural Policy, which affects Latvian farmers, and she developed a reputation as a tough advocate for Latvia.  But she’ll lead a party that’s massively unpopular and a government that she says will follow roughly the same course:

… the new government must not destroy the state budget for this year, [Straujuma] told reporters last night, reports LETA.

The next government will have to ensure stability, stressed Straujuma. One of the key priorities, that is “of major importance for businessmen and society”, is preparing a program on absorption of European Union funds for Latvia. The European Commission should approve the program by mid-2014 so absorption of the funds could begin in the second half of the year, emphasized Straujuma.

Unity’s Andris Vilks is almost certain to continue as finance minister in the new government, and Reform’s Rihards Kozlovskis and Edgars Rinkēvičs will remains interior minister and foreign minister, respectively.  Jānis Dūklavs, a member of the Union of Greens and Farmers, will replace Straujuma as minister of agriculture, a role that he held between 2009 and 2011 in the first two Dombrovskis governments.  Raimonds Vējonis, a former environment minister, will become Straujuma’s new defense minister. Continue reading Who is Laimdota Straujuma? Latvia’s likely first female prime minister.