Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hamburg election: worrying news for the Christian Democrats?

Thanks, JD, for drawing my attention for this one!

Germany's internal political situation has received little attention since the 2013 federal election. However, a number of regional elections have taken place recently have had a number of interesting results. Last week, it was the turn of Hamburg to go to the polls, and the results are somewhat interesting.


Hamburg is a city in the north of Germany. Like the cities of Berlin and Bremen, it is also a state, and accordingly, the Premier (as we know it in Australia) is called the Mayor, although he has the same powers as Germany's other state Premiers. It is the eleventh most populated state in Germany.

Hamburg uses a mixed-member proportional representation system. It has a 121 member unicameral parliament.

Hamburg was run by the left-wing Social Democrats from 1957 to 2001, making it generally a left-leaning state. In the 2001 election, however, they lost government, with the centre-right Christian Democrats forming government with the controversial right-wing Law and Order party and the liberal Free Democrats. Law and Order collapsed in 2004, but the Christian Democrats formed a majority government.

In 2008, the Christian Democrats lost their majority, but formed a coalition with the Green Party in a rather unusual pairing. The 2011 election was a disaster for the Christian Democrats; they lost half their seats, and the Social Democrats won a majority.

The 2015 results

Party analysis

The Social Democrats will find this election result good news. They won 58 seats; a loss of four, but still a good result, and one that will allow them to form government with the party of their choice. Given that they won only 32% of the vote in Hamburg at the federal election in 2013, it is a good result for the local government.  Such a result indicates that the coalition with the Christian Democrats at the federal level hasn't had any immediate backlash. The most likely coalition looks likely to be with the Greens.

The Christian Democrats are unlikely to enjoy this result much. A swing away from an already weak party seems to show that voters are unhappy with their performance in opposition. They have remained consistent in polling at the federal level, meaning that the result doesn't seem to be any backlash against the Merkel government.
There's not much to say about the Green performance in Hamburg. It's a good result; their equal third best in the state since their formation. It's very close to the Christian Democrat result, but more out of a lack of support for the Christian Democrats than any serious Green surge.

The Left only entered the Hamburg parliament in 2008. This is not unusual for states that were in West Germany and had had no serious far-left presence. Under the Weimar Republic (1919-1935), there was a big Communist presence, but that faded away after World War 2. They managed to do well, gaining three seats from  but it seems unlikely that they will be a serious challenge to the established parties in Hamburg.

The liberal Free Democrats did well. They polled about the same as last election, and won the same number of seats (nine). However, this is against the backdrop of serious decline for the party, which lost all its federal seats in 2013 and has been losing seats at the state level just as quickly. The result in Hamburg may not represent a turning point for the party, but it shows that they still have some support.

There has been lots of discussion about the Alternative for Germany party lately. This party has a somewhat conflicting message; some members are pro-European Union but anti-common currency, while some are more anti-EU and anti-immigration. They continued their run of success, winning 6.1% and eight seats. They had won seats in every state election since the federal election, and the polls say that they are likely to win 6-7% federally. However, as the story of the Pirates (who won 1.6%) has shown us, new entrants into the German political landscape are not always welcomed warmly.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Liberal leadership spill and its international context

As most of my readers will know, the federal Liberal Party of Australia is currently involved in a leadership crisis. Poor polling for Prime Minister Tony Abbott has fermented discontent amongst backbenchers, and while Abbott managed to win 61-39, it appears highly unlikely that the discontent will go away.

For the past few years. the Liberal Party of Australia has recently been free of leadership rumors, which is due to political good fortune. However, polling has turned south since the Liberals have entered government, which has put the heat on Abbott.

Australia has had a number of recent changes in political party leadership, with the federal Labor Party having troubles during their last term of government and the NT Liberal leadership crisis creating panic amongst that party.

This type of leadership instability is rather rare in developed democracies. However, there are some countries where political leadership transfers frequently, despite democratic elections.


Japan has had a significant amount of leadership instability. Japanese prime ministers have served only around two years on average since World War 2, with it being a rare occurance for a party to be led by the same leader two elections in a row. Even Junichiro Koizumi, a long-lasting and succesful Prime Minister, only faced the electorate twice.

Like Australia, Japanese party leaders are elected by party caucuses. This has meant that it is cheap and easy to depose a poorly performing leader. The Liberal Democrats, the centre-right party that led Japan for forty years, often changed leaders due to the complex web of factions within the party. In the era of regular opinion polling, the Liberal Democrats and the opposition centre-left Democratic Party have changed leaders due to poor polling.

Recently, Japan appears to have made a turn towards political stability. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been in office for a long time, and a leadership coup does not look likely in the near future. However, this may just be an extremely popular politician, and one cannot be certain what will happen.


In years past, Italy has been notorious for its many changes of leadership. Under the Christian Democratic coalition government, there were 29 Prime Ministers between 1949 and 1993. 

This was blamed on the use of a proportional representation system. However, all but four of those prime ministers were Christian Democrats, so that seems unlikely. Rather, the change in Prime Ministers was a direct consequence of the bickering between the internal coalition parties and the Christian Democrat factions. This is different from Australia, in that Prime Ministers were not sacked due to unpopularity. 

I'm not sure how Christian Democrat leaders were elected (if you know, please comment), although judging from how the party governed, it wasn't dissimilar to a papal election.

That's it?

Well, it's not an exhaustive list. If I included presidential or semi-presidential countries, the list would include countries like South Korea and Taiwan. I only looked at national jurisdictions.

Australia may be on a downward spiral when it comes to leadership challenges, anyway. The Labor Party has introduced leadership rules that require 80% of Caucus to announce their opposition to a leader for said leader to face a leadership ballot. If Abbott was a Labor leader, it would be virtually impossible to remove him unless he quit.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Northern Territory-The curious case of the midnight leadership coup

A rather odd situation is currently taking place in the Northern Territory. Incumbent Chief Minister Adam Giles has been removed as Liberal leader, and has been replaced with Westra van Holthe, the Minister for Mining, Energy, and Fisheries and former Deputy Chief Minister, in a late night ballot. Giles was defeated with nine votes for van Holthe to five votes for him. However, in a rather odd twist, Giles has refused to resign, apparently on the grounds of 'because I can'.

The Giles story

Adam Giles was elected to the Northern Territory Parliament in the 2008 election in the safe Country Liberal (the name for the Liberal party in the Northern Territory) seat of Braitling. The Labor Party won that election, but only narrowly. 

In the 2012 election, the Country Liberals were elected to government under the leadership of Terry Mills. However, Mills proved unpopular, and Giles replaced him as leader on 13 March 2013. As one can imagine, though, Mills reacted maturely and sensibly to the news that Giles had been removed as leader.
A retweet on Terry Mills' Twitter account.  Mature and sensible.
Giles, however, has proved to be unpopular. A program of privatisations, mining industry closures, and the resignation of the Commissioner of Police over claims he interfered in a criminal case, have led to his party turning against him. While there are no opinion polls in the Northern Territory, the loss of Campbell Newman, who instituted a similar program of privatisation, may have led Country Liberal MPs to make the final push.

The constitutional issue

After the defeat of Giles in the leadership ballot, van Holthe assumed that Giles would go to the Administrator (the Territory Governor) and resign, thus paving the way for him to be sworn in. All Australian party leaders have done this after being sacked, no matter how acrimonious the circumstances around the sacking.

However, Giles decided to make a break with tradition, and refused to resign. A planned swearing-in ceremony for van Holthe and his Cabinet had to be called off, and, given that he only has the support of 9 MPs (thirteen are needed in the 25 member NT Parliament) to form government, there is no constitutional basis for him to ask to do so. And yet, Giles only has five votes. This means that he has no basis with which to form government either.

It is likely that unless a compromise between the van Holthe and Giles forces can be brokered, the Administrator, John Hardy, will have to step in. If Giles refuses to back down, appointing van Holthe would be controversial, and if Giles stays as Premier, the Country Liberals will be likely to sack him as a party member. 

As far as I can see, if Giles won't resign as Premier or back down and support van Holthe, the only option is an election, and if this leadership fiasco is anything to go by, that will be won by the Opposition. It would be in the best interests of the Country Liberals for Giles to resign; whether he will do that is still unclear.


The crisis is over, with van Holthe backing down, and Giles getting to be premier again. Van Holthe will be Deputy Premier. At one point, it looked like van Holthe would be Country Liberal leader, but Giles would be Premier. This was rather impractical, and it now appears that, despite not being the choice of the party, Giles will stay.

This sets a poor precedent for future Australian leadership changes. If Julia Gillard had refused to resign as Prime Minister after being defeated by Kevin Rudd in a leadership ballot, it would have set off a messy constitutional process, with the possibility of Tony Abbott becoming prime minister without an election. This seems unlikely in the more disciplined Labor Party, or indeed in any place outside the Northern Territory. However, the idea is a worry for parties wanting to remove their leaders in narrow parliaments.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Queensland election 2015-the results

Previous posts on Queensland

Queensland's election took place yesterday, and while the votes are not yet all counted, the results are relatively clear. The Liberal National Party, led by Campbell Newman, have received a 9% swing against them, and have lost a significant number of seats. It appears likely that they will lose government, and Newman himself has . The Labor Party, led by Annastacia Palaszczuk, went in to this election holding only 9 seats in the 89 member Parliament. However, it now appears that they will be able to form either a minority or narrow majority government, given that they are expected to win 44-46 seats. Three others have been elected; two from Bob Katter's Australian Party and one pro-Labor independent, Peter Wellington. One other independent may also be elected.

The results

The ABC's election page has all the results here.

At present, Labor has 44 seats won, and the LNP have 34. There are still 8 seats that are undecided. Two of these are leaning towards Labor and six are leaning towards the LNP. The three seats held by others are all solid.

The Labor Party has reason to celebrate. A big swing against the LNP, probable government, and the defeat of Newman in his own seat. The last is hardly unexpected, the first was virtually certain, but government, after the rout in 2012, is simply astonishing. However, Labor will have to work with a reasonably tight parliament if they form government. Nonetheless, the result puts to bed the idea that a landslide loss will consign a party to opposition for a decade or more.

The LNP clearly have a lot of thinking to do. While it may turn out that they return to government, that now appears unlikely. It remains unclear what the mix of federal and state factors were in the defeat of the government. However, incidents like the knighting of Prince Philip by the Prime Minister, debate over the Goods and Services (sales) Tax, and the mere fact that the Federal Liberals are in government may have impacted on the performance of the state Liberals. Still, the state party must also bear some blame, and there is little chance of Newman being invited back to lead the party, even if he wanted to.

Clive Palmer's Palmer United Party polled poorly, despite a large amount of money spent on the campaign. Judging from the results, it seems unlikely that Palmer will be returned in his federal seat of Fairfax, and the result, coming on the heels of poor results for PUP in Victoria and Tasmania, may spell the end for the Palmer United Party.

The Queensland Greens are generally a weak party. However, this election was relatively good for them. They polled 8.5% of the vote, but won no seats due to the spread of their vote. However, their preferences were instrumental in electing Labor candidates.

Katter's Australian Party polled poorly, receiving just 1.8% of the vote, down from 12% in 2012. However, they managed to win their two seats, and will probably play a pivotal role in the new parliament.

Pauline Hanson managed to poll relatively well in Lockyer, winning 27.6% of the vote and coming second. However, there is little chance of her winning, as Labor preferences are unlikely to flow to her.

Previous situations

Usually, opposition parties defeated by swings of the sort seen in the 2012 Queensland election are in opposition for a long period of time. However, there are a number of cases that are similar to this election.

In 1992, the Victorian state Labor government of Joan Kirner was defeated in a landslide, with Labor winning 27 out of 88 seats in the Victorian parliament. Kirner was replaced as Premier by Liberal leader Jeff Kennett. While Kennett was a controversial leader, he won the subsequent 1996 election, after running a campaign heavily based around Victoria's economic development. 

However, at the 1999 election, voters had begun to tire of Kennett's controversial leadership, and a number of actions during the campaign period, such as banning members of the Liberals from having debates with other candidates in their electorates, created a public perception of arrogance. Kennett was also unpopular in country areas, on account of his privatisation of services in those areas.

In the end, Labor, led by Steve Bracks, ended up with 42 seats, while the Liberal/National coalition ended up with 43. The balance of power was held by 3 rural independents, who ended up backing Labor.

Another situation of this sort took place in South Australia. While the Liberals in this state had won a landslide in 1993, infighting led them to lose their majority in 1997, and to lose the 1999 election. This is probably the closest parallel to Newman's situation: while the causes are different, the situation is very similar. However, even after a rout in 1993, South Australian Labor had 22% of Parliamentary seats: Queensland Labor had 8%.

On another matter

On the same day as the dramatic events in Queensland, a by-election was held for the South Australian state parliament in the seat of Davenport on the resignation of ex-Liberal leader Iain Evans. The result of that election was that Davenport, a previously safe Liberal seat on a margin of 8.5%, was reduced to a marginal seat, with a margin of 2%.

The result is another embarrassment for the South Australian Liberals. After losing the 2014 election against a 14 year old Labor government (despite winning the popular vote), the party lost former leader Martin Hamilton-Smith to Labor, after he crossed the floor to become an independent. The party then lost a by-election in the notionally Liberal seat of Fisher after the death of Independent MP Bob Such, and, to add insult to injury, is now trailing Labor in the polls by a significant margin.

The South Australian Liberals perhaps are victims of bad luck, as no state election was scheduled to be held while Labor was in power federally under Julia Gillard, which would have guaranteed the election of a Liberal government. However, it is surely only the most inept party that could fail to defeat an ancient Labor government.

Life imitating art

Finally this week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott made a rather ill-advised photo-op at the Bulla factory in Colac, which reminded me of a scene from The Thick of It (on the left).