Bulgaria should hold an election as early as next month, the head of the ruling Socialist party said on Tuesday, saying the instability caused by having a government on “life support” was bad for the country. The Socialists have bowed to pressure both from their own coalition partner and the main opposition GERB party to hold an early election after their poor performance in last month’s European Parliament poll, gaining less than a fifth of the vote. Sergei Stanishev’s call for a vote in July is earlier than other parties would like. GERB would prefer an election to be held at the end of September or early October. The ethnic Turkish MRF, the Socialists’ junior coalition partner, would prefer November or December. Whichever date the president negotiates, any new government will have to take difficult decisions in its dealings with the EU and Russia over Moscow’s proposed building of a gas pipeline through Bulgarian territory to bypass Ukraine.
Hashim Thaci’s “thumbs-up” gesture has become his trademark in election campaigns since he helped lead the guerrilla insurgency to throw off Serbian rule over Kosovo 15 years ago. The thumbs were on show again this week in the western town of Gjakova, where 46-year-old Thaci was on the campaign trail ahead of an election on Sunday he hopes will give him a third term as prime minister. The show of confidence, however, belies the pressure on Thaci from political rivals and a war crimes investigation that threatens to ensnare former comrades-in-arms and even his closest allies.
Egypt: International Observers Find Egypt’s Presidential Election Fell Short of Standards | New York Times
Egypt’s presidential election fell short of international standards of democracy, two teams of foreign observers said Thursday, a day after the former military officer who led last summer’s military takeover won a landslide victory with more than 95 percent of the vote. “Egypt’s repressive political environment made a genuinely democratic presidential election impossible,” Eric Bjornlund, president of Democracy International, an election-monitoring organization funded by the United States, said in a statement. In an interview, he called the political context “hugely troubling.” A team of European Union observers said in a statement that, despite guarantees in Egypt’s Constitution, respect for the essential freedoms of association and expression “falls short of these constitutional principles.” Robert Goebbels, a Luxembourg member of the European Parliament, summarized the voting process as “free but not always very fair,” noting the winner’s overwhelming advantage in both financial resources and news media attention.
Polling stations have finally closed their doors on the last day of Egypt’s 2014 presidential election. The cabinet will hold a meeting on Thursday to discuss the steps to follow the election. Several monitoring bodies will also be announcing their initial findings including the European Union’s commission, which said it will be holding a press conference on Thursday. Despite claims of low turnout, judicial sources told Al-Ahram’s Arabic news website that voter turnout by Wednesday – the third day of voting – had reached around 21 million – or about 40 percent of the country’s 54 million registered voters. The estimate puts the turnout higher than this January’s constitutional referendum, which saw around 20.6 million voters (38.6 percent), Judge Tarek Shebl, a member of the general secretariat of the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC), the judicial body supervising the poll, told Al-Ahram. Shebl believes turnout for the presidential election will surpass 40 percent.
If there was one bright spot for mainstream political parties in the elections for the European Parliament, it came, to the surprise of many, in Italy, where Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his Democratic Party received more than 40 percent of votes cast, a level no party has reached in any Italian election since 1958. Mr. Renzi, who ran on a pro-Europe, anti-austerity platform, easily beat his principal opponents, receiving roughly double the votes cast for the anti-establishment party of Beppe Grillo or for the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who campaigned assiduously despite the restrictions imposed by a one-year sentence he is serving under house arrest. The vote strengthened Mr. Renzi’s resolve — and his clout — to push through a contested agenda in Italy. Analysts said it also seemed to show that voters were willing to reward established parties that initiate changes themselves, without the prodding of the political extremes.
It is risky to see hopeful trends in the Ukrainian crisis. But a degree of calm seems to have settled over the rebellious southeast, which may bode well for the presidential election scheduled for Sunday. There are many things Moscow and its minions in Ukraine can still do to derail the election, of course, but President Vladimir Putin of Russia has refrained from publicly endorsing the “people’s republics” proclaimed by secessionists. His spokesman said on Monday that he had ordered Russian troops to pull back from the Ukrainian border, though NATO has not seen any change yet. It is crucial for the vote to be accepted by all sides so Moscow can stop referring to the interim administration as the “illegitimate regime in Kiev,” and the elected president can begin to repair the enormous economic and social damage suffered by Ukraine in recent months. But the election itself will not solve Ukraine’s problems unless a new president can also address the deep corruption and cronyism that have been a hallmark of Ukrainian government since independence in 1991. The front-runner in the presidential race is Petro Poroshenko, a 48-year-old tycoon known as the Chocolate King for his candy empire.
The European Parliament elections and the vote for a new president in Ukraine dominate the agenda this week. Voters in The Netherlands and the UK begin the EP election process on Thursday (22 May), followed by the Czech Republic and Ireland on Friday, four more countries (Italy, Malta, Slovakia, and Lithuania) on Saturday and the rest on Sunday. The results are due at 11pm Brussels time on Sunday. The latest poll, by TNS, indicates the centre-right EPP will slightly increase its lead over the centre-left S&D and that the Liberal group will shrink. Polls also indicate that the number of populist, anti-EU MEPs of various stripes will grow, with the eurosceptic Ukip and the far-right National Front set to become the leading EU parties in the UK and France, respectively. Also on Sunday, Ukrainians will vote for their new president under the eyes of more than 1,000 OSCE monitors, the largest ever election mission by the Vienna-based multilateral body.
As exercises in democracy go, this week’s EU election rivals the United States, India and Brazil for sheer numbers. But when it comes to voter recognition it is a very different story. The lead candidates could not even dream of comparisons with Barack Obama or Narendra Modi and therein lies a problem for the European Union as it battles to make itself more relevant and accountable to its citizens. This week, from May 22-25, the 28 countries that make up the EU will elect a new European Parliament with up to 380 million voters, from western Portugal to northern Finland, choosing 751 deputies to represent them. In every European election since the first direct one was held in 1979, turnout has fallen, dropping to just 43 percent in 2009, despite four EU countries requiring voting by law. This year will be no different: pollsters expect turnout to drop to 40 percent or just below, and turnout among young voters – who politicians have worked hardest to connect with on issues such as jobs, education and training – will fall furthest.
The world has welcomed, but also expressed suspicion about the Russian president’s endorsement of Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election. President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday also called on pro-Russian groups in eastern Ukraine to postpone their referendum on independence planned for the coming days. He said Russian troops have been withdrawn from the border with Ukraine as the United States and the European Union requested. President Putin said Wednesday the vote, set by Kyiv for May 25, is a step in the right direction, but that his support is limited. “I want to emphasize that the presidential election to be held in Kyiv is going in the right direction, but it will not solve anything if all Ukrainian citizens do not understand how their rights will be guaranteed after the presidential election,” said Putin. Putin made his remarks during a visit by an OSCE representative in Moscow, a day after the top EU and U.S. diplomats threatened tougher sanctions if Russia disrupts the Ukrainian elections.
The upcoming May 25 presidential election is classified as “dangerous.” Today, all eyes are glued to the separatist attacks in the east, the number of Russian soldiers at Ukraine’s borders and the courteous exchanges between diplomats of Ukraine, Russia, America and the European Union. Uncertainty about the ability of Ukraine to organize the election process only increases the tension, and is compounded by the irresponsible attitude of some candidates, public anxiety and expectations of what tomorrow will bring. The National Security and Defense Council and the Foreign Ministry have stated that Russia is bent on disrupting the election process, or to completely de-legitimize it. Throughout its post-Soviet history, Ukraine has had no practical experience in dealing with such a high level of security and foreign invasion threats. However, there is enough time for all citizens to adopt the right behavior tactics and security measures to be able to vote.
Observers from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS on Monday said Guinea-Bissau’s weekend election was free and fair, and called on international donors to restart cooperation suspended in the wake of a 2012 coup. Bissau-Guineans flocked to the polls in large numbers on Sunday to vote in long-delayed legislative and presidential polls meant to bring stability to the former Portuguese colony after years of putsches and political infighting. No elected president has completed a five-year term in Guinea-Bissau, which has become a major transit point for smugglers ferrying Latin American cocaine to Europe. “The election was conducted according to international standards and the election was peaceful, free, fair and transparent,” the ECOWAS observer mission said in a statement.
Hungary: The 2014 Hungarian parliamentary elections, or how to craft a constitutional majority | Washington Post
Last weekend’s parliamentary elections in Hungary should have been a major event, at least within the European Union and the United States. Over the past four years the E.U. and the United States have criticized the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for its authoritarian, conservative and nationalist tendencies. These were institutionalized in the new constitution, which the government rammed through the toothless Hungarian parliament, in which the national-conservative Fidesz-KDNP party coalition held a constitutional majority. Scores of domestic and foreign observers have highlighted the many problematic parts of the constitution, although very little has been changed as a consequence of these critiques. But these are not ordinary times. The United States is preoccupied with the situation in Ukraine, while the E.U. is crippled by the lingering economic crisis and fears of an anti-European backlash in European elections next month. As a consequence, the Hungarian elections received little special attention from the E.U. and U.S. elite, despite widespread fears that another victory for Orbán, dubbed the “Viktator” by domestic critics, could lead to permanent damage to Hungary’s still-young liberal democracy.
Hungarians handed their maverick Prime Minister Viktor Orban another four years in power, election results showed on Monday, while one in every five voters backed a far-right opposition party accused of anti-Semitism. Orban has clashed repeatedly with the European Union and foreign investors over his unorthodox policies, and after Sunday’s win, big businesses were bracing for another term of unpredictable and, for some of them, hostile measures. But many Hungarians see Orban, a 50-year-old former dissident against Communist rule, as a champion of national interests. They also like the fact that under his government personal income tax and household power bills have fallen. After 96 percent of the ballots were counted from Sunday’s parliamentary vote, an official projection gave Orban’s Fidesz party 133 of the 199 seats, guaranteeing that it will form the next government.
During the last European Parliament election in 2009, fewer than half of Europe’s voters bothered to show up at the ballot box. What’s the EU doing to increase voter turnout – and what are its chances of success? For decades, the European Parliament in Brussels was seen as the place to put old politicians out to pasture. No wonder, then, that European citizens hardly spare much thought for Europe and its institutions. The numbers bear this out: Since the very first European election in 1979, voter turnout has steadily dropped. In 2009, only 43.3 percent of Germans exercised their right to vote, a figure also reflected in the average European turnout. The country with the lowest turnout was Slovakia, at 20 percent. There are many reasons that explain this voter disinterest, chief among them being that most European citizens aren’t familiar with the duties of the European Parliament and the extent of its authority. They’re unaware of how decisions made in Brussels and Strasbourg influence their daily lives.
Serbia’s Progressive Party pledged to form a new government by May 1 after winning an outright parliamentary majority in an election on a pledge to fight graft, fix the economy and join the European Union by 2020. The party, led by Aleksandar Vucic, who forced the ballot two years earlier than scheduled, won 48.3 percent, more than polls predicted, Serbia’s Election Commission said today. Vucic will get 158 of the chamber’s 250 seats, while Prime Minister Ivica Dacic’s Socialist Party received 13.5 percent, for 44 seats, according to preliminary results. Vucic said he will consult with President Tomislav Nikolic and three other parties that made it into parliament. Vucic, who was once an ally of late Balkan strongman Slobodan Milosevic, pledged to embrace painful austerity measures endorsed by the International Monetary Fund and lead Serbia into the EU two decades after the bloody Balkan civil wars. He said he will “extend a hand” to other parties before forming his administration.
The protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy. It is easy to understand why. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal. Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government.
Expats have been urged to register to vote, with less than three months left before the deadline for the European Parliamentary elections. Just a just a tiny percentage of the estimated 5.5 million British expats are currently registered. The Electoral Commission has therefore launched an international campaign via radio and social media to encourage more to sign up. An overseas registration day on Wednesday February 26 aims to achieve at least 25,000 overseas voter registration form downloads from the website www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.
European expats living in Malta can vote for the 2014 European Elections in Malta, by registering in the European Union Electoral Register, the closing date for registration is the 31st of March 2014. In order to be elegible to register and to vote you will need an ID card or residence document from the Citizenship & Expatriate Affairs Department in Valletta, in Gozo EU residents can apply at the office within the Ministry for Gozo. The Office is located on the left through the main green doors of the Consumer Affairs section in St Francis Square. An Application Form is then required to be registered in the European Union Electoral Register as a voter for the Election of Members of the European Parliament, this is available for download here. The European Commission has recently issued guidance to EU-Member States which have rules in place leading to a loss of voting rights for citizens in national elections, simply because they have exercised their right to free movement in the EU.
While EU member states are gearing up for elections to the European Parliament in May, Sweden also has another election to prepare. In September, Swedes will again head to the voting booths, this time to decide the country’s political direction for the coming four years. As such, 2014 has become known as a “super election year”, a concept of almost mythical proportions. Sweden joined the EU alongside Austria and Finland in 1995, but not all Swedes rejoiced. The referendum preceding accession had given a slim majority – 52.3 per cent – in favour of membership, with a full 46.8 per cent of voters against. EU processes have become an integral part of Swedish politics, but Sweden in many aspects still remains a reluctant partner after almost twenty years of cooperation. Swedish ambivalence towards the EU has been particularly visible since the economic and financial crisis. Swedish top politicians have at once wished to move positions forward in the areas of economy and finance, by virtue of Sweden’s relatively strong performance during the crisis, and to keep actual commitment to EU economic policy at arm’s length. Swedish public opinion is amongst the most sceptical regarding the euro of all member states. As such, the government coalition, in principle in favour of the euro, has had to keep its common-currency dreams at bay. As in many other member states, the nature of Swedish ambiguity towards the EU is somewhat of a chicken-or-egg scenario: have governments sparked these doubts by playing off EU policy against domestic policy, or have they just been sensitive towards the wants and needs of the public? Interestingly, the Swedish political weathervane has seen different effects of the economic crisis in terms of EU policy.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich will not use force to clear the streets and may challenge his opponents to early elections if they fail to compromise, according to reported comments by a political ally. Emerging on the day the president returned from sick leave and as parliament convenes for a new term on Tuesday, it may be an attempt to break a deadlock that has gripped central Kiev – and Ukraine’s ailing economy – since November, when Yanukovich spurned an EU trade deal and sought aid instead from Russia. At least six people have been killed in the past two weeks and fierce clashes between riot police and increasingly militant squads of hardline protesters have prompted concern that the big former Soviet state of 45 million people, which separates Russia from the European Union, might descend into civil war. However, Yanukovich, possibly comforted by an opinion survey last week showing both he and his party topping polls with about 20 percent support in Ukraine’s fragmented political system, may be ready to call the bluff of opponents who want him to quit.
The European Commission has today issued guidance to EU-Member States which have rules in place leading to a loss of voting rights for citizens in national elections, simply because they have exercised their right to free movement in the EU. Five Member States (Denmark, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and the United Kingdom) currently apply regimes which have that effect. Whilst under the existing EU Treaties, Member States are competent to determine who can benefit from the right to vote in national elections, disenfranchisement practices can negatively affect EU free movement rights. Disenfranchisement practices are also at odds with the founding premise of EU citizenship which is meant to give citizens additional rights, rather than depriving them of rights. The European Parliament Office in Malta in Malta has said that “as an EU expat living in Malta you can vote for the 2014 European Elections in Malta.” “Closing date for registration is 31 March 2014. You’ll need an ID card or residence document from the Citizenship & Expatriate Affairs Department in Valletta: www.electoral.gov.mt.” Then the Application Form, to be registered in the European Union Electoral Register as a voter for the Election of Members of the European Parliament, is available for download here.
Serbia’s coalition government asked President Tomislav Nikolic on Tuesday to call an early election with the dominant center-right SNS party looking to accelerate reforms by cashing in on a surge in its popularity. Nikolic was expected on Wednesday to schedule the parliamentary election for March 16, just under two years since the people of the western Balkan state last voted. The SNS (Serbian Progressive Party), the strongest party in the ruling alliance, is well ahead in opinion polls, putting party leader Aleksandar Vucic in pole position to take over from Socialist Prime Minister Ivica Dacic. Once an ultranationalist disciple of the “Greater Serbia” ideology that fuelled the wars of federal Yugoslavia’s bloody disintegration in the 1990s, Vucic has since rebranded himself as a pro-European modernizer. As deputy prime minister, Vucic has advocated a painful overhaul of Serbia’s bloated public sector, the pension system and rigid labor market.
Serbia’s ruling center-right populist party said Saturday it wants to hold early parliamentary elections to push for economic reforms and cement its grip on power in the economically-troubled Balkan country. The leader of the Serbian Progressive Party and deputy prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, told the party gathering he wants to “test the will of the people” in the polls that are likely to be held in March. The former pro-Russian ultranationalists turned pro-European Union reformers are by far the most popular party in Serbia. Vucic hopes the early vote will give him a mandate to become the prime minister and rule without the support of the Socialists, whose leader, Ivica Dacic, is the current premier.
Back in what now feels like another era, the European Union was a vessel of aspiration whose aims were largely supported by political leaders across the continent. Here was a super-nation constructed out of a collective yearning for shared security, prosperity and modernity. In the contemporary conversation, talk of the European Union engenders suspicion and even contempt. The union sometimes seems to have devolved into a totem of discontents — over the continued inflow of migrants from poorer countries, the expanding powers of bureaucrats in Brussels, and the very notion of tying one’s national fortunes to the perceived dysfunction of broader Europe.
A European season of separatist fervor kicked off Thursday with Catalan lawmakers voting in favor of asking for the right to hold a referendum on independence from Spain. The European Union was watching closely as Belgium’s Dutch speakers gear up to push for greater autonomy in May elections, and Scotland prepares to hold its own referendum on breaking away from Britain in the fall. The vote was a milestone in years of mass protests by Catalans, who are fiercely proud of their distinct culture and language, demanding the right to decide whether they want to secede. As lawmakers debated at the Catalan parliament in Barcelona on Thursday before the vote, about 150 Catalans outside waved independence flags. A smaller group unfurled Spanish flags before the debate began, yelling “Catalonia is Spain!” But the vote was also largely symbolic.
The U.S. expressed disappointment with Bangladesh’s political leaders and joined the European Union in declining to send observers for next month’s election amid growing violence in Asia’s fifth-most populous country. With more than half of the seats in the parliamentary election on Jan. 5 uncontested, Bangladesh’s main political parties should redouble efforts to find a peaceful way to settle their disputes, Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement yesterday. The move by the U.S. follows a decision by the European Union last week to refrain from sending observers until conditions allow for a transparent, inclusive and credible election. “The people of Bangladesh deserve the opportunity to elect their national representatives in a climate free of violence and intimidation,” Psaki said. “The nation’s political leadership -– and those who aspire to lead -– must ensure law and order.”
Mali has “turned a page in its political transition”, the European Union says, following a parliamentary election praised by international observers. The results of the second round of elections, which were held on Sunday (15 December), have yet to be announced, but for the EU the principal question was whether the conduct of the election would give the new parliament legitimacy within the country and encourage international donors to follow up on their pledges of support. Voting was marred by a suicide attack in the north-east that killed two Senegalese members of a UN peacekeeping force, but African and European observers said that the election had been acceptably free and transparent. “Nobody would have thought we could organise the return to constitutional order and the rule of law this fast,” said the leader of the EU’s observer mission, Louis Michel, a Belgian Liberal member of the European Parliament. Similar comments were made after the first round on 26 November.
Editorials: Honey, I Shrunk the Vote!: the implications of a reduction in the voting age | University Times
It has been decided that by the end of 2015 there will be a referendum in Ireland regarding lowering the voting age from 18 years of age to 16. The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) is in support of the proposed reduction in voting age. There are several reasons for the proposed reduction of voting age. The most persuasive of which I believe is that it will put youth issues on the political agenda. The NYCI suggests that “the involvement of more young people in Irish politics would … ensure issues affecting young people specifically would gain more prominence in the political arena because the people affected by those issues would be able to exercise their franchise to influence the policymaking process”. If the population between 16 and 18 years of age were added to the electorate, this youth block alone would account for 3.1% of the voting electorate (based on the population figures from the Census taken in 2011). This is a proportionately large amount of the electorate considering it only involves an age range of two years.
One week after the general elections in Honduras, an environment of disagreement and uncertainty prevails in the Central American country — one of the poorest, most insecure, and corrupt in the region. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal of this country has already proclaimed a victor: Juan Orlando Hernández of Partido Nacional, who was elected with 36.8 percent of the popular vote. However, in second place, just a mere 250,000 votes away, we have the new socialist party, LIBRE, with Xiomara Castro de Zelaya as the candidate. She is not accepting the results, and LIBRE has denounced electoral fraud and already carried out several peaceful protests. The truly remarkable result of this election, though, is the end of two-party dominance in a country where it prevailed for more than 30 years. This came after the fragmentation of one of the traditional parties, the Partido Liberal de Honduras. With the newly created LIBRE party offshoot in second place, the ideological spectrum of options available to the electorate amplified, and political forces reconfigured. Never in the history of this country has a presidential election been so close or competitive with the results, in both percentage-points and votes counted. As a consequence, the incumbent party’s control of Congress will not be as high as it has been in the past. Instead, the newly elected president, facing almost 65 percent opposition, will have to manage a divided parliament, and most likely a president of the Unicameral Congress that does not belong to Partido Nacional.
On December 1, Croatia, the newest European Uion member state, held a referendum on same-sex marriage. However, unlike other European countries, Croatia was not voting on its legalisation, but on whether a new clause, defining marriage as a “union between a woman and a man”, should be included in the constitution. The preliminary results show that 65 percent have said “yes”. The referendum was called for in reaction to the election promises [Sr] of the ruling coalition to give certain rights to same sex couples. A Croatian Catholic group “In the Name of the Family” launched a petition on this matter, gathering 750,000 signatures. As a result, the Croation parliament, with 104 out of 151 votes, decided to open the decision-making to the public, through a referendum. Although less than 40 percent of the 3.8 million [Sr/Hr/Bs] eligible voters actually took part in the referendum, the results are binding, as there is no required quorum. Although most Balkan countries include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws, Croatia’s call for referendum and the petition do not come as much of a surprise to anyone in the region. Past attempts at asserting LGBT rights have been greeted with contempt and sometimes outright violence. Croatian analysts and intellectuals indicate that the referendum on marriage is just a prelude to the referendum on the use of the Cyrillic alphabet in Croatia.