Saturday, December 3, 2016

03DEC2016 Update - Austria and Italy

A housekeeping note. These "update" posts are due to the nature of politics in the off season. There are frequently many little stories VS fewer bigger stories which is more common in the spring or the fall.


Austria has been trying to elect a President for most of the year. Austria elects its President with a nationwide vote in a two-round system where the top two candidates continue to the final round. Austria uses a Parliamentary system, however, and the President has limited powers.

From 1951 to 1974, the Presidential elections all saw the main two parties, the Social Democrats and the Peoples Party, have their candidates make it to the run off, or, win in the first round. This includes times when people backed by one of the parties ran officially as an Independent. In 1980, both parties backed the same person, who won on the first round.

This trend would continue, with various footnotes and 'kinda' and 'sorta' qualifications until and including 2010.

2016, as it so often does, shattered the norm. The Social Democratic candidate finished 4th, and the candidate from the Peoples Party, behind him in 5th. The top two candidates were an Independent backed by the Greens, Alexander Van der Bellen, and a member of the Freedom Party, Norbert Hofer. The Freedom Party may be familiar, as it's one of Europe's "far right" parties that has tried to moderate it's viewpoints. The first round saw Hofer beat Van der Bellen by 35.1% to 21.3%, while Irmgard Griss, an Independent who was formerly on the supreme court, took 18.9% and finished 3rd.

This was in April and in May a 2nd round was held. On election night, counting showed a very close race, with both candidates taking over 49.5% of the vote. Hofer lead all night. When postal ballots were counted, however, Van der Bellen was declared the winner, having won 50.3% to 49.7%, a margin of victory of under 31,000 from a total of near 4.5 million ballots cast.

The Freedom Party brought an appeal to court, claiming irregularities such as opening ballot boxes (to count the ballots) prior to the closing of polls, and having ballots being handled by those not authorized. The court found that over 77K votes had irregularities, and since that was greater than the victory margin, cancelled the result, forcing a new election.

Elections were then set for the 2nd of October, however, problems with the glue on postal votes, caused another delay.

Finally we get to tomorrow, December 4th, where the vote will be taken again.

Most polls taken within the past month show Hofer with a very slight lead, but the most recent poll shows Van der Bellen with a very slight lead.

My personal money is on Hofer edging out a victory.


Since Austria's president has limited powers, a more impactful election might be considered the events in next door neighbour, Italy.

A referendum on the constitution is to be held.

Some background on Italy.

After WW2 three main parties formed to contest elections. The Christian Democrats, the Communists, and the Socialists. Italy's communist party was seen as, by far, the most pro-soviet of the "western" Communist parties, with leaders that continued to praise Stalin years after his crimes had come to light.

while there were elections in 1946, Europe was generally in chaos at the time. Thus, the 1948 election may be the first you can consider truly to have seen the sort of political considerations we can relate to. In that election the Christian Democrats (DC) took  48.5% of the vote while a united front of Communists and Socialists took 31%. Due to the use of regional lists, and effective thresholds, DC won a majority, as well as a majority in the Senate. Despite this, they governed in coalition with a few other centrist parties. The 1953 elections would see DC take 40.1%, the Communists (PCI) take 22.6%, and the Socialists (PSI) take 12.7%. This general trend continued throughout the entire cold war. In 1987 DC took 34.3%, PCI took 26.6%, and PSI took 14.3%.

1992 saw a shift. DC taking 29.7%, PCI's successor party taking 16.1%, and PSI taking 13.6%. Notable is that Lega Nord, a semi-separatist party that has been accused of far-right tendencies, took over 8% of the vote.
Everything changed during the period known as Mani Pulite. The long and the short of it was that corruption accusations and investigations caused all the major parties to disintegrate. As a result, the next election was fought between alliances of parties and not parties. As well the electoral system was changed so that 3/4ths of seats were now elected using FPTP.

In 1994, the alliance lead by Silvio Berlusconi beat the alliance of left-wing parties to form a government. While defeated in 1996, Berlusconi returned in 2001. While in office a new electoral system was designed that guaranteed the winning alliance 55% of the seats, regardless of the number of votes they took. As such, the 2006 election saw Berlusconi lose and his opponents take a majority. In 2008, Berlusconi was able to return, winning a majority due to the electoral system.

2013 saw perhaps the most egregious result of this electoral formula. The winning alliance took 29.5% of the vote, but, 55% of the seats in the house. This meant that parties like the South Tyrolean People's Party, a small regional party with 0.43% of the vote, elected 5 members. Important was that 2013 saw the rise of M5S, a new party that is very difficult to classify. Italy has it's own unique politics, and M5S fits into that grid, and as such, it's difficult to understand from outside the system. While it has right-wing tendencies, it's most known for it's stances towards "degrowth".

After the court found part of the election law unconstitutional, a new election method was drawn up. Part of this referendum focuses on getting the courts to review the new law and certify it as constitutional, or throw it out, and not to wait after a series of elections to do so.

The new election law will divide the countries into a number of proportional electoral districts. Parties passing a 3% threshold nationwide are able to elect members in these districts. In reality, however, unless a party is regional in nature, these districts will put an effective threshold of closer 10%.

Should a party be able to win 40% of the vote nationwide, it will qualify for the majority bonus, and be given 54% of the total seats. If no party achieves the 40% mark, the top two parties are subject to a nationwide runoff where voters choose which of the two they want to obtain a majority.

The new constitutional proposals would also see the Senate weakened, as well as other various changes.

These reforms are opposed by M5S, as well as both Forza Italia, Berlusconi's Party, and Lega Nord, Berlusconi's main ally.

Polls suggest the referendum is headed for a defeat, and the Prime Minister has suggested that if this happens there will be snap elections.

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