Tag Archives: elections

Changed Irish Political Landscape Elections 2014

While the weekend saw one of the slowest counts most pundits had ever seen, the delay gave three days for the results to sink in. Some journalists are calling this polling day Sinndependence Day, after the enormous success of Sinn Féin and independent candidates.

Certainly Sinn Féin have nearly tripled its seats in the local councils and gained 3 MEPs compared with none from the last European elections in 2009. At the same time Labour’s vote has collapsed and Fianna Fáil, the party held responsible for the economic crisis, has proved more resilient than expected and held their local support. RTE online provides detailed electoral breakdown. 

But the rise in support for Sinn Féin is only one symptom of a wider change in the Irish political landscape. What’s more significant is how the tradition political cleavages are breaking down. Those observing the transfers (Ireland uses a PR electoral system) shows that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have transferred to each other in this election in numbers not seen before.

For those less familiar with Irish political divisions, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael represent the parties formed from two opposing sides of the Irish Civil War in 1922/1923. The two parties, historically centre-right (FG) and centre with centre-left sympathies (FF) have never been in coalition. Their voters and the candidates often inherit the position.

Labour goes into coalition with FG on occasion then suffers afterwards for it in the polls. But Labour was distinctly the third party, one of a number opposition parties.

Sinn Féin’s support stayed under 8% in most elections and there was huge stigmas attached to membership because of the Northern Ireland conflict. Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act in Ireland forbidden the broadcasting of the voice of any Sinn Féin member. They could not take part in public debate. This only ended in the early 1990s so for them to be a significant player in the this election is remarkable.

One way this changing political landscape tripped Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, up was the category of ‘others’. ‘Others’ is made up of all independent/non-party candidates and smaller parties, Socialists, People Before Profit, and the Green Party, among others.

rte vote bar

But in this election ‘others’ was one of the largest groups and so displaying results in this way is not very informative.

The rise of the left was one of the most talked about outcomes of these elections. Despite making foolish decision such as the Socialist Party running its candidates as the AAA (Anti-Austerity Alliance) which no one had heard of or changing the name of the party in the European election to Stop the Water Tax – The Socialist Party, they won 12 seats on county and city councils. People Before Profit, primary a working group of the Socialist Workers Party, also took 12 seats.

Political discussion and analysis by many journalists failed to catch up with the new realities. Talking about the four historic parties and “the rest” no longer adds to the conversation.

Other changes can be seen in the issues that effect voters. Jobs, tax and healthcare will be central to most elections and the rise of real left parties has forced discussion on economic alternatives into the mainstream but new issues are also coming into play. Social equality, gender, sexuality and race, are becoming increasingly significant.

Darren Scully, who was mayor of Naas at the time, claimed that he did not represent the African community in his constituency. He resigned as Mayor and was expelled from Fine Gael. In this election, not only was he allowed to return to Fine Gael but he was re-elected to the council in Naas.

racist scully naas vote deets

At the same time Sinn Féin ran Edmond Lukusa, Chairperson of the Congolese Consortium of Ireland and he was elected to the Fingal council.

edmond lukusa

Ireland’s growing immigrant communities are still not only underrepresented in Irish politics but social disconnected from it as well. The parties that connect with this demographic before the next general election will hold  a significant advantage over the parties who do not.

A gender quota of 30% is expected to be in place by the next general election and so many analysts are already pointing at parties that will struggle to comply with that, such as Fianna Fáil. Marriage equality activists are expecting marriage reform in this next two years and increased rights for GSRM couples and families will have to be in the manifestos of many parties.

The next general election will be one that defines Irish politics for the decade to come.

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The Australian Election: An Outsider’s Perspective

Australia has just voted in their 44th Parliament and as widely expected, Tony Abbott, leader of the National Coalition won in a landslide victory over the incumbent Labor party.

AP Photo/Rob Griffith

But the pressing question for me and for many looking in on this from outside Australia is: why? Australia has enjoyed what most countries would consider a satisfactory six years under Labor, and most of that with current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the helm. It has escaped relatively unscathed from the global financial crisis, not once falling into recession. Despite a rising cost of living, Australians are better off in real terms than they were when Labor came to power in 2007.

But in terms of policies, the two parties were very divergent. Rudd was proposing a carbon emissions tax. Abbott’s replacement scheme, a system of incentives for firms to voluntarily reduce their carbon emissions, has been proven by an independent study to be nowhere near effective enough to meet Australia’s targets under the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, Abbott is something of an environmental disaster waiting to happen. His transport policy relies on building more roads at the expense of improving public transport. His policies can be explained by his scepticism towards global warming, scepticism about as well founded as his assertion that carbon dioxide cannot be measured since it is (according to this great scientific mind) “weightless”. However the carbon tax had been hugely unpopular with the public.

Australia’s options are similarly divergent in social policy terms. Rudd’s support for marriage equality, although only recently expressed, is backed up by his passage of legislation granting equal financial rights to gay couples in civil partnerships. Abbott, meanwhile, not only opposes gay marriage but has also stated that he feels “threatened” by homosexuality. So strong is his support for “traditional” marriage that he has proposed making divorce illegal without specific grounds.

He is fiercely anti-immigrant, and unfortunately the general public’s opposition to the admittance of the “boat people” has made his hard line on asylum seekers popular. This has led to a general policy lurch in this direction by all parties, including Labor (despite Rudd’s earlier endorsement of a “big Australia”).

Added to all this is the simple fact that he is an outrageous misogynist, and if you haven’t already seen the video of Gillard eviscerating him for having the gall to accuse another MP of sexism then I would advise you to get on it right away. By contrast, Rudd nominated the first ever female Governor-General and filled his current cabinet with a record number of women. Abbott, while minister for health, tried to veto access to the abortion drug RU-486. Rudd supported the successful motion that removed this decision from the health minister’s portfolio.

All this, of course, may be working to Abbott’s and the coalition’s advantage. Australia’s reputation – or perhaps stereotype – as a laid-back and liberal country (women achieved federal voting rights in 1902) doesn’t at all hold true today. Australia has a long conservative political history. Australian aboriginal people did not receive full citizenship or voting rights until the late 1960s. The Australian government was still allowing church groups to effectively steal aboriginal children until 1972. It was in fact Rudd who delivered the first apology for these abuses when he was Prime Minister in 2008.

Abbott’s economic policy depends on cutting tax and cutting spending. The tax cuts focus on businesses (he plans to cut corporation tax by 1.5%), and the spending cuts will be around $40 billion over the next four years. The full cost of the coalition economic plans were revealed 48 hours before the election. This cut in government spending is significant and, while it probably won’t force Australia into a recession (as Rudd claims), it won’t balance the budget any sooner than Rudd’s economic plan; both predict a budget surplus in 2016/17. Labor’s economic success thus far has already been noted.

Why, then, do Australians think their best choice lies in the right-wing, environmental suspect, economically dodgy Tony Abbott? The media may be in a large part to blame; all but one of the major Australian newspapers have come out in support of the coalition, with only The Age endorsing Labor (the only major international news outlet to express a preference, The Economist, also supports Rudd). The continual infighting between Gillard and Rudd no doubt also served to drain confidence in the ruling party.

But to me the most likely cause lies in the compulsory voting system which is an integral part of Australian democracy. Those citizens who don’t care are forced to vote, and the ones who are forced generally don’t follow their country’s politics as closely as those who vote voluntarily. Yet these apathetic voters are the swing voters, the ones who may decide victory for either side. But then this still speaks to continuing conservative leanings, even latent ones, among the Australian populace.

So though outsiders might feel confused by the election of a man who has never been particular nationally popular and has always been polarizing this fits international trends following the financial crisis. This could have easily been any other country.

— submitted by Cathal O’Leary

The Origins of the Maldives’ Election Controversy

Riots erupted in the Maldives in February of 2012 when the then president, Mohammad Nasheed, resigned under the threat of violence. Nasheed was elected in 2008 in the Maldives’ first democratic presidential election following a 30 year dictatorship under Gayoom and the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Nasheed 2011

(Nasheed addresses Human Rights Council September 2011)

There were mass protests by opposition when President Nasheed fired Justice Abdulla Mohamad on January 16. Justice Mohamad was head of the criminal court and President Nasheed ordered that he be arrested for failing to investigate corruption and human rights abuses by the previous PPM administration.

This was not the first time Nasheed clashed with the judiciary during his presidency. He claims that the judiciary are under the thumb of the old regime.

Justice Mohamad is a public supporter of the former authoritarian president Gayoom and stands accused by the Judicial Services Commission (the Maldivian judicial watchdog) of having two children, the alleged victims of sexual assault, act out their assault in the courtroom. Mohamad has protected himself from investigations with court injunctions.

JJ Robinson, editor of the Maldives based Minivan Newsclaims that:

“of the 200 judges and magistrates in the country…50% of them have less than a Grade 7 education and 30% of them have actual criminal records: everything from child abuse to terrorism…these are not independent, impartial, moral-free thinkers.”

Hasheed wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times on February 8 where he alleged that his resignation was nothing short of a “coup” and accused his former deputy Mohamed Waheed of taking part in a conspiracy to oust him. He also claimed that “Islamic Extremists” had abused new free speech laws to throw “anti-Semitic and anti-Christian slurs at my government, branding as apostates anyone who tried to defend the country’s liberal Islamic traditions and claiming that democracy granted them and their allies license to call for violent jihad and indulge in hate speech.”

Nasheed’s resignation prompted his supporters to protest which was met with severe police reactions including tear gas and the alleged beating of member of Nasheed’s party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Following the resignation the new president, former deputy Waheed, issued a statement saying that the rule of law would be upheld “at any cost” and denied that any coup had taken place. Warrants were issued for former president Nasheed’s arrest.

Nasheed’s government had a positive relationship with India and so he took refuge at the Indian Embassy in early 2013 in the Maldivian capital of Male when charges of abuse of power were leveled against him. Nasheed maintained that these charges were a “politically motivated sham.”

After 10 days in the embassy he left and was arrested. If convicted he would be excluded from the elections being held in September. His supporters feared for his life as he was being held in an infamous prison on a remote island. Many of his supports were forced into exile as well.

However international outcry motivated the EU to state that the polls would “not be credible without Nasheed“. The UN and India followed suit, both calling for free and inclusive elections.

The Maldives goes to the polls on September 7 and anti-NGO Transparency Maldives will have over 400 volunteers working throughout the country on election day. It’s a waiting game to determine the Maldives political future.

But most mainstream media has paid very little attention to the Maldives. Most media outlets have not covered the story at all and those who do go out of their way to avoid stating that a coup occurred or whether police abuses of MDP members and supporters are still ongoing.

“Dictatorships don’t always die when the dictator leaves office. The wave of revolutions that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen last year was certainly cause for hope. But the people of those countries should be aware that, long after the revolutions, powerful networks of regime loyalists can remain behind and can attempt to strangle their nascent democracies.” – Nasheed ‘The Dregs of Dictatorship’ Feb 2012

Orla-Jo