Category Archives: Politics

Catching up with Romania

I was fortunate to spend last weekend in Bucharest talking to Liberal candidates ahead of Romania’s parliamentary elections in November.

I cant claim credit for the best answer of the day.  In response to the question, “How do you deal with opponents who offer voters a million lei to buy their vote?” an experienced Liberal Senator replied: “Tell them ‘he might offer you a million now but we have raised your pension by a million for each month'”

Belatedly, if its the sort of thing that floats your boat, you can find my EPERN report on the Romanian elections to the European Parliament at:

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/sei/documents/epern-ep2007-romania.pdf

A winning plan for the capital

Here is a real plan of action for a Liberal mayor:

  • Widen the four main roads into the city
  • Create a new outer ring road
  • Build a new rail link from the centre to the main airport
  • Extend the underground system to the south western suburbs
  • Build a new airport to the south of the city
  • Construct new port facilities in the city

OK, so it’s not a plan for London.  They are (just some of) the key pledges from Ludovic Orban, Liberal candidate for mayor of Bucharest.  You cant say he lacks ambition (though goodness knows how he plans to pay for it).

Everything changes, everything stays the same…

You turn your back for 10 minutes and a whole bunch of new parties appear in Romania.

Arrived in Bucharest in the middle of the local elections to discover the Popular Christian Social Union (they almost got all the bases covered there with the name 😉 and the Civic Force Party as the newest kids on the block.  The former seems to be vaguely left of centre (their leader is a former Social Democrat, their Bucharest mayoral candidate is ex National Salvation Front and ex Democrat party), the latter a splinter from the Greater Romania Party. 

Also surprised to see Adrian Mutu (a footballer, for the uninitiated) endorsing Cosmin Gusa of the National Initiative Party (amused that Gusa flew out to Italy for the meeting rather than the other way round though) and to see Sorin Oprescu running as an independent – last I heard, Oprescu was a senior Social Democrat. 

Everyone is running ‘against the government’ – cohabitation helps because everyone has someone else to blame.  The National Liberal campaign in Bucharest seems to be well funded but they bought lots of advertising space last November and still got trampled on by the Democrats.

Anyway, if you are interested and if you can read Romanian (or Latin or Italian – you’ll work it out), I recommend:  www.alegeri.tv which I have just discovered.

EPERN report on Romanian Presidential Impeachment Referendum

I’m off to Bucaharest for a few days next month for the climax of their European Parliament elections.

 But, in the meantime, the European Parties, Elections and Referendums Network has published my report on the impeachment referendum held earlier this year.  If you like that sort of thing you can find it here.

East European politics and Paddy Ashdown

Ive recently discovered that my friend Sean Hanley has a blog.  It’s well worth a read if you are interested in East European politics.  He has a book coming out soon but I cant recommend it yet because I am still waiting to be sent a review copy (hint, hint).

 I note he says this about Paddy.  Whether it is an accurate assessment, I couldnt possibly comment… 🙂

“There’s a slightly know-all, even sanctimonious edge to Ashdown, but on he’s articulate, to the point and clearly a high calibre politician who knows what he’s talking about. Best Foreign or Defence Secretary we never had.”

Buy this book if you want to win an election

jp.jpg

I have just sent the following review through to Amazon for Putting Voters in their Place by Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie.

Johnston and Patties book is a gold mine for anyone trying to achieve elected office.  The ideas are presented clearly and straightforwardly but with substantial academic rigour being applied.

The book’s core thesis is that geography is a key determinant of voters’ political preferences.  This is not too surprising given that the authors are political geographers, but what is new is the clarity with which they present their case.  My most common reaction when reading the book was, “well, that’s so obvious why doesn’t everyone already know that?”

The chapter structure makes it an excellent choice for students of electoral politics since they take key issues in turn, summarise the existing arguments, present their data and then their conclusions without ever becoming impenetrable.  It’s like an eight week seminar programme in a single publication.

For me they make two core insights.  The first is that the vast majority of voters make the same political choices throughout their life.  So, an elector who chooses not to vote in their first election is likely to carry on being a non-voter thereafter.  The second is that if you take two otherwise identical voters and place one in a predominantly Labour area and the other in a predominantly Conservative area, they are each more likely to assume the voting preferences of their neighbours. 

These insights may not seem on a par with developing the theory of relativity but taken together they say something very important about how a party should approach an election.  If I were a Labour Party politician in a comfortable suburban neighbourhood I would be doing three things – I would be making great efforts to identify new arrivals in the area and convincing them that it was OK to vote Labour because most of my new neighbours do; I would make sure I had a big display of posters up come election time to reassure people of just that point; and I would be spending a lot of time talking to those who were coming up to age 18.

Johnston and Pattie identify the importance of conversation networks as the main contributor to this phenomenon.  Where I was slightly disappointed with the book was that they didn’t seem to fully follow through on the logic of their own argument to identify changing patterns of communication as a means of explaining partisan de-alignment.  In the British context there is a clear trend since the early 1970s for voters to be come less strongly attached to one particular party and for aggregate support for both major parties to fall.  Might it not be the case that this trend is fuelled by voters gaining access to a much wider range of social networks?  Changes in education (more people going to university); work patterns (the service economy is vertical in its organisational structure rather than the horizontally stratified factory); technology (just the TV for example, let alone the internet); and the economy (more firms and people having contact with an international customer and co-worker group) might all bring a greater range of political influences to bear on voters.  Given that partisan loyalty seems more persistent among Labour voters, this would seem to be borne out since relative poverty seems highly likely to be a factor in limiting access to a broader range of conversation networks.

My other slight disappointment is their apparent unwillingness to challenge what the academics would call ‘normative assumptions’ about voter turn-out.  There is widespread angst among the liberal elite about falling voter turn-out and possibly rightly so.  But there seems to be a lack of willingness to consider this as a factor of contentment – that individuals and groups mobilise when they feel their interests to be directly threatened.  Maybe in the UK (and the US) rising levels of aggregate wealth account for the lack of interest in voting – and maybe the final consequence of the triumph of liberal economics is the marginalisation of liberal democracy since government is increasingly irrelevant to people’s lives.  Maybe not, of course, someone will have to do the research…

Overall, this is a fine book that should be widely read by students and those with a wider interest in politics.

How to unite liberals, socialists, nationalists and conservatives…

… and still only get 25% of the vote.

 That, according to provisional results, is all that the ‘Yes’ campaign could muster in its efforts to impeach Romania’s president Traian Basescu.

Whatever else he might be, Basescu is a mighty skillful political operator with a populist touch.  A skilled politician in touch with the populace – well blow me if that doesn’t sound like the sort of person a country like Romania might need to run it.  But unfortunately in the course of his efforts to change the face of Romanian politics he upset too many vested interests.

Basescu was elected narrowly in 2004 at the head of an alliance between his own Democratic Party (now, sadly, affiliated to the EPP) and the Liberals.  A coalition government was formed between the alliance, the Hungarian minority party and the ‘Conservative Party’ (a bunch of chancers who went into the election as ‘The Humanist Party’ in alliance with the Social Democrats – but who jumped ship when the Social Democrats unexpectedly lost). 

Having lost the support of all but his own party, it was inevitable that Parliament would vote against him in the impeachment process.  But ratification was required by a referendum.  In the campaign, the Liberals, Social Democrats (post-Communists), Conservatives, Hungarian Union, and the ultra-nationalist Greater Romania Party ALL campaigned for a yes vote. 

As some commentators have pointed out, Basescu’s stunning victory is just the start of the constitutional crisis – he cannot dismiss the Government (which in more established democracies would resign in the face of such a defeat).  But with Parliament so united against him, it is hard to see how they can work together.  Basescu’s PD and the break-away Liberal Democrats who supported him, must be hugely strengthened as a result of this vote and be chomping at the bit for early Parliamentary elections. 

Fascinating times surely are ahead.  With a worrying cloud on the horizon.  Gica Becali, owner of Steaua Bucharest football club and of his own political party, shrewdly backed Basescu in the referendum campaign.  Polls have shown his party consistently hovvering around the limit for winning seats in parliament.  Frankly, I don’t trust him.  He draws some of his advisers from the (far edge of the) mainstream right.  But he seems to draw more of his own views from populist nationalism.  If Basescu’s allies win the next Parliamentary elections but fall short of a majority, Becali has positioned himself well as a potential coalition partner and I’m not convinced that would make for a more liberal Romania.