Archive | Election Reports

Direct democracy in Switzerland: Yes to the army, vaccinations, and petrol station shops

Germany wasn’t the only country holding elections in Central Europe this weekend.  Swiss voters went to the polls for a number of referenda on Sunday, and we are pleased to continue our series of election reports with the following post-election report from political scientists Thomas Milic and Sean Mueller, both at the Institute of Political Science, University of Berne.


On 22 September 2013 the Swiss electorate, in its quarterly power of highest law-breaker and constitution-maker of the land, was once more called to the polls to answer three specific questions. First, whether the mandatory conscription service for all Swiss men should be deleted from the Federal Constitution and be replaced with the mere option to serve in the Swiss military for men and women alike; second, whether to approve a new law on vaccinations in times of epidemics; and third, whether to approve the modification of a single article in the Labour Code, thus enabling petrol station shops along busy roads to remain open also during the night. As had been widely expected, Swiss voters rejected the popular initiative launched by the Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GSOA), thereby confirming the existing conscription system, and equally approved of the two legislative reforms. What remains however interesting for political scientists to observe is the wide sub-national discrepancy in approval/rejection rates, the different constellations across the three questions, and the result of various cantonal and communal votes.

An overwhelming yes to the army, but not equally strong throughout Switzerland

In Switzerland, modifications of the Federal Constitution (the term “amendment” is misleading since changes are not attached, but rather directly incorporated in the written document) need to be approved by a majority of people and also a majority of Swiss cantons, whereby the vote of a canton is determined by the way its people decide. From the outset, this was thought to be an extraordinary obstacle for the popular initiative on partial constitutional change – of all the 184 popular initiatives voted upon between 1848 and March 2013, only 20 (11%) had been approved ( and own calculations). Proposals reforming or even abolishing the Swiss army in particular have had a tough stand. This time around, too, an overwhelming majority of 73.2% Swiss citizens voted against the proposal, with quite a respectable turnout of 46.4% (the average turnout between 1990 and 2010 being 44.1%; State Chancellery). Although none of the 23 cantons approved, there are still notable discrepancies as regards the degree of approval of the status quo. Rejection of the initiative, in other words, has reached top-levels of more than 80% in seven cantons, with Uri at the top of the list with 85%. At the other end, in three cantons “only” some 60% voted no, with canton Geneva, at 57.8%, forming the other end of the continuum. To sum it up, rejection was particularly strong in cantons where the left parties are weak and in rural regions, where the number of people actually doing their military service is higher and where the compulsory military service is not regarded as a disadvantage in the labour market (Figure 1; from Tages-Anzeiger).


Shop opening hours and state vaccinations: the rural-urban cleavage

The other two questions to be decided at national level both concerned legislative reforms against which a referendum (that is a petition signed by at least 50,000 citizens) had been launched. Although both rather detailed items to be decided, at least the campaign on extending the opening hours of petrol station shops was marked by an interesting alliance of left-wing trade-unions and religious groups, on the one hand, and liberal and business interests, on the other. For the former, although the reform concerned merely 24 shops throughout Switzerland (Figure 2; from Der Bund), the issue really was about protection of workers from having to work all night and family values at risk in a so-called “24-hours society”. The latter, however, saw in the existing regulation a “bureaucratic monster” – the 24 petrol stations in question could already remain open all night, but had to close off their shopping areas between 1am and 5am. The result was accordingly a rather narrow victory of the liberalisation camp, with 55.8% voting in favour of the reform (turnout: 45.8%). This time, however, the less well-off cantons of Valais, Uri and Jura plus Fribourg and Neuchatel voted against the overall trend; the people of Jura even by a 65.3%-strong majority.

Eidg-Abstim_Kantone 2-sp

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Background Information on German Elections

As we wait for the results of the German elections, we are pleased to be able to provide some background on this election from Benjamin Preisler, who most recently obtained his second M.A. from the College of Europe and is now looking for new opportunities. He blogs and tweets.  We will have post-election reports in the coming days.


The outcome of the federal elections that took place in Germany today, September 22, had enthralled Europe for the better part of 2013. Clearly, some national elections have become continental issues as the attention paid to Greek or French elections in recent years had already hinted at. Little surprisingly, Merkel’s reigning CDU/CSU has won, yet much remains uncertain as to what kind of coalition will – or even can – govern Germany.

The setup of the Bundestag had remained remarkably stable following its inauguration in 1949. Apart from two small exceptions in 1949 and 1953, the same three parties (CDU/CSU, SPD & FDP) topped the necessary 5%-hurdle, split all seats amongst each other and determined the government – with the FDP oftentimes tipping the scales – all the way up to 1983.

This inertia (or stability) of the party system started eroding over time with the process of – relevant – new parties emerging taking place increasingly rapidly. In the 1980s the Greens became a fixture on the parliamentary scene providing the blueprint for a bipolar four-parties, two-camps opposition that culminated in Schröder’s red-green coalition. Following reunification the former state party of East Germany became the PDS and made its entry onto the parliamentary scene as a regional power, which it consolidated through a union in 2007 with a predominately West German protest movement (the WASG) that resulted in today’s Die Linke.

These four established parties are joined in these elections by the Pirates who in 2011-2012 garnered enough votes to make their entry into four state parliaments. Currently drawing most attention though is an absolute newcomer on the German political scene in the Euro(zone)-skeptic Alternative für Deutschland, which arose out of a conservative economist-heavy backlash against the Merkel government’s supposedly failed policies in the framework of the eurocrisis.

From a stable three party system, Germany has thus moved to a volatile four to seven party whirlwind. As the exit polls beneath make clear, a parliament that currently seemingly consists of four parties could feasibly have either five or six at any point during this night.

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2013 Austrian Parliamentary Elections: Pre-Election Report

The Austrian Voter

We are please to continue our series of Election Reports with the following pre-election report on the September 29, 2013 Austrian parliamentary elections by political scientists Sylvia Kritzinger, Michael Lewis-Beck, and Eva Zeglovits, three of the authors of The Austrian Voter.


On September 29, Austrian citizens will vote in the National Council elections. It is their first such vote since the extension of the legislative period from four to five years. Further, the two government parties, SPÖ and ÖVP, have not had to fight any regional or local elections for over two years. Though such a honeymoon period is rather unique, the government failed to make decisions over necessary reforms resulting in a standstill in most policy areas (pensions, higher education, the health system, etc.). Most importantly, new parties have entered the political scene, confronting the two ‘old’ mainstream parties with decreasing electoral support.

Austria has been known for its relative stability, with the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) holding together more than 90% of the votes for decades.  Hence, current developments make this election particularly interesting. First, since 1986, the Greens and the radical right (FPÖ) have offered serious challenges to this duopoly. And the 2013 campaign remains particularly special, with more parties than ever poised to play a role in the distribution of the 183 National Council seats.

Most prominently, Austro-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach and his newly founded party Team Stronach are running, and the Austrian National Elections Study (AUTNES) survey foresees that his party will obtain seats. Moreover, Team Stronach poses trouble for the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) – a splinter party off the FPÖ, with popular Jörg Haider chairing it until his death in 2008. Stronach convinced some former BZÖ MPs to desert the BZÖ and form a parliamentary club for the Team Stronach. In all, these days there are six parties represented in the National Council, an all time high in Austrian politics.

Team Stronach also challenges the other radical right party in the Austrian National Council: the FPÖ. Team Stronach competes along similar electoral lines as the FPÖ: it is skeptical towards the European integration process, demands to leave the euro, and denounces the Austrian political system and its political class. In the past, the FPÖ ‘owned’ all these issues. Unlike the FPÖ though, Team Stronach does not tackle the issue of immigration, which was a major FPÖ issue in the last electoral campaign.

Finally, a new liberal party – the NEOS – also tries to capture the support from the center-right Austrian citizens. Unlike Team Stronach, however, it is far from certain whether the NEOS will pass the threshold of 4 per cent to gain a seat in the National Council. All in all, in this year’s election there is fierce competition on the right-hand side of the ideological political spectrum: 5 serious competitors are fighting for votes. The left-hand side of the ideological spectrum is emptier: only the Social Democrats and the Greens are serious contenders here.

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Call For Election Report Contributors, and an Update on Disciplinary News at TMC after the move to the Washington Post

So a quick addendum to some earlier discussions about the role The Monkey Cage can play in the future in terms of providing news about events and developments in the discipline. For now, we are being encouraged to continue doing this, which is kind of turn-about from what we originally reported. So for those of you who lamented the loss of this feature at The Monkey Cage, hopefully this will be a welcome development. We’ll have to feel our way through it, but for now you can still expect to be able to see some of these announcements and discussion at The Monkey Cage after our move to the Post.

Still, I wanted to issue one of my occasional calls for contributors to our Election Reports series before the move. The goal of this series is to give social scientists with an indepth knowledge of particular elections a chance to write something about those elections that is more than just a quote in a newspaper article but appears more quickly than the 1-3 years it often takes for an academic article to be published. The larger goal was to try to train journalists to know that they could come to The Monkey Cage in the immediate aftermath of elections for research-informed commentary on elections. My other hope was that these reports could serve as a good source of information for people trying to code recent elections as part of more broadly comparative work (or simply to quickly bring themselves up to date on the politics in a country about which they did not already know much).

By now we’ve had quite a lot of reports appear in the series, and I’ve been very pleased with the overall quality. However, this whole enterprise depends on people volunteering to write these reports (although we now also have a nice pipeline from people writing “Notes on Recent Elections” at Electoral Studies). So with that in mind, here’s a list of upcoming elections through the end of the year. If you are interested in writing a report on any of these, please drop me a line directly at joshua dot tucker at nyu dot edu:

  • Rwanda Parliamentary September 16, 2013

  • Germany Parliamentary September 22, 2013

  • Switzerland Referendum September 22, 2013

  • Guinea Legislative September 24, 2013

  • Austria Legislative September 29, 2013

  • Cameroon Legislative September 30, 2013

  • Ireland Referendum October 4, 2013

  • Ethiopia Presidential October 8, 2013

  • Azerbaijan Presidential October 9, 2013

  • Yemen Referendum October 15, 2013

  • Luxembourg Parliamentary (Moved up) October 20, 2013

  • Madagascar Presidential First Round (Tentative) October 25, 2013

  • Czech Republic Parliamentary October 25, 2013

  • Georgia Presidential October 27, 2013

  • Argentina Legislative October 27, 2013

  • Tajikistan Presidential November 6, 2013

  • Chile Presidential First Round November 17, 2013

  • Chile Legislative November 17, 2013

  • Nepal Legislative (Tentative) November 19, 2013

  • Mauritania Parliamentary First Round November 23, 2013

  • Honduras Presidential November 24, 2013

  • Honduras Legislative November 24, 2013

  • Switzerland Referendum November 24, 2013

  • Mauritania Parliamentary Second Round December 7, 2013

  • Chile Presidential Second Round December 15, 2013

  • Turkmenistan Parliamentary December 15, 2013

  • Madagascar Presidential Second Round (Tentative) December 20, 2013

  • Madagascar Parliamentary (Tentative) December 20, 2013

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Additional Commentary on Moscow Mayoral Elections

University of North Carolina political scientist Graeme Robertson and Kings College London political scientist Samuel Greene:

From the government’s standpoint, the regional and local elections held Sunday in Russia were primarily about getting a ‘convincing’ victory – convincing the ruling elite that President Vladimir Putin’s imprimatur can still carry an election in the boisterous capital, convincing the public that Putin is still in charge, convincing the opposition that their cause is futile, and convincing himself that his political machine still functions. Did it work?

Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption activist convicted of embezzlement (on what many believe to be flimsy grounds) just before he stood for mayor of Moscow, garnered some 27% of the vote – more than many thought he could, but not enough to force the incumbent, Sergei Sobyanin, into a runoff. On the other hand, Sobyanin avoided that runoff with only the slimmest of margins, at 51.37%, which is likely to be questioned when vote tallies can be scrutinized more carefully. Moreover, Putin’s United Russia party lost elections in two major cities – Ekaterinburg and Petrozavodsk – where opposition candidates with strong local backing overcame the country’s most powerful political machine. The Kremlin’s victory, then, was less than resounding.

How all of this looks from the confines of the Kremlin will begin to become clear tomorrow, when Navalny’s appeal against his embezzlement conviction gets its first hearing in court. Whether Navalny goes to jail will be a reflection of how soundly the Kremlin thinks it can sleep without its most prominent opponent behind bars. Former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, due to be released in the spring unless a rumored third trial goes forward, will be watching carefully from his prison cell, as will 12 mostly young men and women arrested for taking part in a protest that turned violent on May 6, 2012.

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Moscow Mayoral Election: The Risks of Using “Relatively” Free Elections to Gain Legitimacy

The following is a guest post from Columbia University political scientist Timothy Frye, Director of the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies.


Elections – even biased ones—are funny things. Going into the Moscow Mayoral election on Sunday, the conventional wisdom saw the incumbent Sergei Sobyanin easily winning a majority in the first round. Meanwhile, his main opponent, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny languished in the high teens in the polls. However with 94% of the vote counted, Sobyanin is sweating out a first round victory with a 51.2% of the vote, while Navalny beat expectations and earned 27.4 percent. A race this close could in principle spark a recount and perhaps a second round of voting, although even a remote possibility of turning the second most important Executive position in Russia to the opposition suggests that the authorities will find a way to prevent another round of voting.

One fascinating aspect of this election was Sergei Sobyanin’s attempts to use “relatively” freer elections to gain greater legitimacy even within Russia’s autocratic political system. Sure, he took advantage of all the benefits of incumbency, enjoyed massive television exposure, reportedly pressured state workers to vote, gained from absentee ballots etc., but the incumbent seems to have relied far less on the crude ballot falsifications that marred the Parliamentary elections of 2011. And it is widely reported that Sobyanin favored allowing Navalny to run in the Mayoral race even though he was recently sentenced to 5 years in jail for embezzlement – charges that many view as politically motivated. Free on appeal, Navalny conducted the campaign in full knowledge that he could be sent to prison at any moment. Although he could have run against “loyal” opposition figures from Kremlin-friendly parties, Sobyanin apparently favored the harder, but potentially more rewarding path, of running against a “disloyal” opposition candidate in Navalny.

Sobyanin, who was thought to be generally popular in Moscow, a city that has prospered in recent years, likely thought that he could coast to victory against an inexperienced candidate with little organization in a very short campaign without relying on the most crude forms of falsification. Earning an easy victory in an election against a “real” opposition figure could have greatly increased Sobyanin’s standing – perhaps even as a potential successor to President Putin. Yet in squeaking by with just over 51% of the vote, Sobyanin returns to office diminished. Navalny, on the other hand, may end up in jail but by beating expectations he cemented his position as a leader of the opposition. These are the risks of using “relatively” free elections to gain legitimacy in an autocratic system where outcomes are not easy to predict.

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Midterm Elections in Argentina: Open, Compulsory and Simultaneous Primaries


In our continuing series of election reports, we welcome back political scientists Natalia C. Del Cogliano and Mariana L. Prats with the following post-election report on last week’s Argentinian elections


On Sunday, August 11th, open, compulsory and simultaneous primary elections were held for the second time across the whole of Argentina since their enactment in 2009[1]. However, they were still far from being primaries stricto sensu. They were probably more like simple primaries. As we already said in our previous Monkey Cage election report, the actual system of primaries can mostly be defined as a virtual first round of an unofficial two-round legislative election. Our primaries function more like a de facto national poll that sets the stage for the general election.

Still, these primaries defined the nominations for the general elections that will be held on October 27th. More importantly, they provided us with real data on which candidates, alliances or parties, if any, have enough popular support so as to start building a political career oriented towards taking the presidency in 2015.

The big name in this regard emerged from within the Partido Justicialista[2] (PJ) in the biggest and more relevant district in the country: the province of Buenos Aires. Sergio Massa, the Major of the municipality of Tigre—and once National Chief of Cabinet during Cristina Kirchner’s former administration—had taken office as a candidate of the Frente para la Victoria (FpV), but in June 2013 he created his own Peronist electoral label (Frente Renovador). Although under the logic of Argentinean politics no national legislator could ever become president, Massa jumped from the municipal level to the national legislative level as a way of projecting himself towards 2015 and in order to test his popular support. Massa appeared as the “moderate” alternative (he tried not to be identified either for or against the national government) aimed at becoming the alternative to the ruling party (FpV).

The fact that the new main alternative to the national government emerged from within the provincial Peronist Party is not an unexpected outcome in a moment in which the remaining parties and alliances in the opposition[3] cannot offer novel candidates, deliver leading proposals, or even command the campaign towards October. This resulted in a campaign mostly concentrated in Buenos Aires and starring y peronist or philo-peronist candidates.

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2013 Albanian Post-Election Report: The Quick, Quiet Albanian Elections and the End of Transitional Politics

Continuing our series of Election Reports, the following Albanian post-election report is provided by Dr Odeta Barbullushi, Lecturer and Vice-Rector for Research at the European University of Tirana.


As the general elections in Albania on June 23rd approached, many people agreed it was high time for Sali Berisha, the first post-communist Albanian President and the oldest leader of the opposition parties in post-communist countries still in power, to leave. Yet, few predicted the large difference between the winning center-left coalition led by the Socialist Party and the Democratic Party-led coalition of the center-right. Even more unpredictable was the quiet resignation of the 67-years old Democratic Party leader Berisha just three days after the elections and the lack of any contestation of the electoral process, or its results.

The 2013 general elections, the quickest and most peaceful ones in the history of post-communism in the country, put an end to the eight year administration of the center right coalition, Alliance for Employment, Welfare and Integration (AEWI), led by the first opposition party in post-communist Albania, the Democratic Party, and brought to power the Alliance for European Albania (AEA) led by the Socialist Party (SP) and its leader, the 49-years-old, artist and former mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama.

Contrary to what national polls, surveys, media analysts and other electoral pundits predicted, the difference was deep and clear: 60% for the SP led coalition, and 40% for the Democrat-led coalition, which translates to 66 seats for the Socialist Party (SP), 16 seats for its ally the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI), and 49 seats for the Democratic Party. Whereas in the 2009 general elections, the Socialist Party won 65 out of 66 total seats won by the center-left coalition, and the Democratic Party won 68 out of 70 seats won by the center-right coalition, the 2013 elections showed a wider gap between the two main Parties and a stronger positioning of the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI). Out of 12 constituencies, the Democrats stood in clear advantage in Kukës only, falling behind the Socialists-led coalition in all the rest. More surprisingly, the Socialist-led coalition reaped success even in traditional strongholds of the Democratic Party, such as the northwestern city of Shkodra, where it got 4 MPs, plus one seat won by the coalition party, the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) leading to a total of 5 parliamentary seats out of a total of 11 seats for the entire constituency. In fact, the Socialists, by themselves, did not fare any better when compared to 2009: they won the same number of votes in 2013 (4). However, when combined with 1 vote won by the Socialist Movement for Integration, the AEA 5 seats overall in the district. The Democratic Party won 5 votes, faring worse than in the 2009 general elections, when it won 7 out of 7 seats won by the Alliance for Change.

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They Said No: 2013 Iranian Presidential Post-Election Report

Continuing our series of election reports, the following post-election report on the 2013 Iranian presidential elections is provided by Navid Hassanpour, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Yale University.


Figure1. A snapshot of the polls in the days leading to the election, showing Rouhani’s surge in the last three days, source:

Last Friday, Iranians voted a surprising “No” to the exclusionist policies of the unelected elite and chose Hassan Rouhani, the unlikely symbol of that negation, as their next President. In the 1997 election, Rouhani was mentioned on par with the Islamic Republic’s favorite Nategh-Nouri, as a competitive challenger to Khatami’s candidacy. Now after 16 years, the contentious competition between the moderates and the hardliners, and the increasing pressure of the public opinion have united an eclectic mix of reformists and pragmatists against the extreme politics of the traditional right.

In the eleventh presidential election of the Islamic Republic Hassan Rouhani won just enough votes—less than 19 million—barely above the fifty percent needed to avoid a precarious run-off in the second round. The election increasingly became a referendum on the current foreign and domestic policies in a race that pit one so-called moderate (اعتدالگرا) candidate against a host of three (or four depending on the definition) competitive principalists (اصولگرا). In a race charged with the division between the moderates and the principalists, the anguished electorate voted “No” to the failed policies of the past eight years. After the Guardian Council disqualified enough candidates and the last reformist (اصلاح طلب) candidate dropped out, Rouhani, a Rafsanjani confidant, became the focal emblem of the opposition and won handily against a camp of disillusioned allies of Khamenei. The repercussions of this outcome are major, at least in two distinct directions: first, the Iranian nuclear negotiations with P5+1, as well as the ongoing power game between the Rafsanjani and Khamenei camps which can define the future of the Islamic Republic past Khamenei. A brief recount of the events leading to the outcome is revealing of the dynamics of power, either democratic or authoritarian, in the Iranian politics.

1.    A Brief History of Presidency in the Islamic Republic

After the victory of the 1979 Revolution, the Presidency was included in the Constitution as an innovation. Prior to 1979 and during the years of the Constitutional Monarchy (1906-1979), the second to the Monarch was the Prime Minister. The post-revolution Constitution introduced the Presidency, and Abulhassan Banisadr was elected President in 1980. Only a year later, the power struggles of the nascent Revolutionary regime and the rivalries of the president-elect and a vexed Khomeini brought Banisadr an impeachment. His confrontation with Khomeini ended in a transfer of major Presidential powers to the Supreme Leader, including the command of the Armed Forces. During the past 32 years, Rajai, Khamenei, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad played a nuanced game vis-à-vis the unelected leader. When the conflict between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei was at its height many of Khamenei’s supporters invoked the clashes between Khomeini and Banisadr at the beginning days of the Islamic Republic, demanding the same fate for an overambitious Ahmadinejad. The presidential election of 2013 was held in the wake of bruising skirmishes between Ahamdinejad at the helm of the executive branch on one side, and the judiciary and the legislature—and by proxy—the Supreme Leader Khamenei on the other. The hardline leadership was determined to keep the presidential power in check.

2.    How did Rouhani Win?

The presidential election in Iran starts with a public call for candidacy, after which a myriad of eccentric figures show up at the registration offices during the registration days. The state media often turns the event into a public electoral circus, emphasizing the festive and unofficial meaning of presidency for the unelected bastions of the Islamic Republic who—not surprisingly—are in charge of the state media apparatus. Often hundreds, if not more, register to become candidates. The Guardian Council (a 12-member congregation of six clergies appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six legal scholars chosen by the Parliament, Majlis, and approved by the leader) vets about half a dozen of the registrants and the candidates start their campaigns up to a day before the election. This year, the authoritative rulings of the Guardian Council over the fate of candidate hopefuls turned the registration process itself into a chaotic political calculus: three major figures registered in the final hours of the registration period (7-11 May, 2013). Saeed Jalili, Esfandiar Mashaei, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani showed up in the last two hours of registration period on May 11th and excited their supporter base. The final list of eligible candidates was announced on May 21st. The Guardian Council surprised the electorate by disqualifying Hashemi Rafsanjani, a previous president, the head of the Expediency Council (an institution he has augmented as a political organization parallel to Khamenei’s bureaucracy of power), and the archrival of Khamenei. Hashemi was deemed to easily win the competition and reign in Khamenei’s faction in domestic and foreign policymaking. Mashaei, the closest candidate to Ahmadinejad, and his potential partner in a Putin-Medvedevsque scheme, was also rejected, albeit expectedly.

Campaigning was allowed to start on May 24th. This meant the candidates had mere 20 days to stage a countrywide campaign. In a country plagued by social authoritarianism and political violence, electoral campaigns are also mirrors of the dominant political exercise. Canvassing is often unheard of, as there are risks involved. Many are hesitant to listen to those who appear unsolicited at their doorsteps. At least at the moment, grassroots campaign tools are the exclusionary dominion of the traditional religious right, who have been successfully utilizing the electrifying means of mosques and sermons to mobilize. In the absence of canvassing, the candidates draw attention in the provinces by making trips to state Capitals and making appearances in prearranged supporter rallies. Trying to emulate a more democratic approach, some candidates made unannounced visits to poor neighborhoods of Southern Tehran and mingled with the crowds asking questions about their wants and misgivings.

The Iranian State Television ran three debates on economic, cultural, and political issues in turn. In line with the same condescending and belittling tone of the unelected part of the governing body, at times the moderators quizzed the candidates on trifling questions on camera. At some point during the first debate the candidates were shown a picture of Bringham Canyon copper mine in Utah and were asked to guess what it might be. One of the candidates found it to be a picturesque valley and opined on the importance of tourism industry.

Eventually what tipped the balance in favor of Rouhani was the nature of political alliances in the last week leading to the polls. Two major components helped an alliance to emerge on the Iranian electoral politics stage, and the principalist camp’s neglecting that emergence cost them the election: first, the last televised debate turned to a humiliating reprisal against Saeed Jalili, the chief nuclear negotiator, and the far right’s favorite: Velayati (a former foreign minister) in particular staged a stinging rhetorical attack on Jalili accusing him of missing opportunities in the course of nuclear negotiations and applying “sermons” instead of diplomacy. On another front, Rouhani and Ghalibaf (another favorite of the right and the likely winner of the race at the time) sparred on their reaction to the student protests of 2003. Rouhani successfully accused Ghalibaf—a former military man and police commander—of baiting the students into violent protests and planning to rout them in surprise attacks. A few days later and three days prior to the voting, the reformist candidate Mohammadreza Aref, dropped out of the race, citing pressure from Khatami (and by proxy Rafsanjani) in favor of Rouhani as the only viable option for the moderate camp. It seemed the reformists’ adherence to Duverger’s law, knowingly or not, effectively assisted their campaign. In contrast, the principalist faction, expecting an easy and predictable win, failed to heed the most principal edicts of alliance: Rouhani became the focal candidate of the opposition running against a tattered camp of three or four competitive principalists, none of whom presented a uniting axis. After Aref’s exit, the dynamics of the race quickly moved in Rouhani’s favor. The Iranian public opinion is highly volatile, and in the absence of public venues for displaying common opinion cascades happen regularly. Many keep their real opinion on issues to themselves, looking for cues to make final decisions. In such an uncertain social environment often the focality of a campaign is the key to success.

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2013 Albania Pre-Election Report: Good Reforms Meet Bad Politics: A Looming Electoral Crisis in Albania

Continuing our series of Election Reports, the following Albanian pre-election report is provided by Skye Christensen, an international election consultant who has worked on electoral dispute resolution for the United Nations Development Program in Albania. The views expressed in this post are solely those of the author, acting in his personal capacity, and do not represent the views of the United Nations.


Albania will go to the polls on 23 June. The vote will not only determine its next legislature and government (Albania has a parliamentary system), but also its EU integration prospects. Though Albania has a history of dubious elections, these polls are fraught with new tension pitting rule of law against the need to hold elections.

For the uninitiated in Albanian political history, Albania has made remarkable progress since totalitarian dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled from 1946 to 1985, had his name written on the sides of mountains, his political opponents killed and their families imprisoned. Today the capital Tirana boasts a buzzing café culture to rival Istanbul, the economy is growing at 3%, and the country has seen periodic change in government through elections.

When polls were called for 2013, the politicos of Tirana had a strong hand to impress their EU colleagues with the maturity of their new order. European observers had praised their new electoral law, developed with outside help and amended by parliamentary consensus in 2012. The law created a more multi-party electoral commission, and a specialised electoral court (confusingly named electoral ‘college’) to deal swiftly with any disputes that might arise.

This progress started to unravel in April 2013 when the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) defected from the ruling coalition, and joined the opposition Socialist Party (SP). This political change upset the careful balance in the Electoral Commission, potentially allowing the opposition to control critical electoral mechanics such as the invalidation of votes and the declaration of results.  The ruling party, in retaliation, promptly discharged the SMI-nominated member of the election commission, replacing him with one of their own. By most readings this was an illegal act since commission members cannot be removed by parliament, and unjustified since the members are in theory independent of the parties. In response, the three opposition nominees resigned one by one, leaving the commission with only government nominees remaining. A joke began to circulate in Tirana’s cafes about the election commission ordering pizza: “Hello it’s the electoral commission. We’d like to order 7 pizzas… er, make that 6… uh, no make it 5, …um just 4 actually.”

Because the electoral code carefully mandates that a weighted majority at the commission is essential to approve certain types of critical decisions, the commission cannot pronounce results. The polls will go ahead, the votes can be counted, but it will not legally be possible to declare any winners officially.

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