A Narrow Win for the Left in a Divided Czech Republic

Elections were held today in the Czech Republic, perhaps the most stable of the former Soviet bloc nations and one somewhat paradoxically where the Czech Communist Party still holds considerable sway. The left of centre Social Democratic Party narrowly won the most seats but the right of centre parties made significant inroads likely setting the stage for a coalition government led by the centre-right.

With 99.8 percent of the votes counted, the Czech Statistics Office said the Social Democratic Party had won 22.1 percent of the vote, while its main rival, the conservative Civic Democratic Party, received 20.2 percent. In third place came a new conservative party called TOP 09 led by Karel Schwarzenberg, a member of the Bohemian nobility, which won 16.7 percent of the vote. Another new party, the rightist Public Affairs party, won 10.9 per cent. Driving voters rightward were fears of Greek-style debt crisis. Still the Czech Communist party took 12.2 percent of the vote. Even so, it's unlikely that the left can must sufficient votes for a governing coalition. The more likely scenario is a government headed by the Civic Democratic party. As in much of Europe these days, the byword seems to be austerity.

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Socialists Ousted as Hungary Veers Right

Hungarians went to the polls on Sunday to elect a new Parliament in the first of a two round electoral calendar. As widely expected, the Socialist government of Gordon Bajnai in power since April of 2009 was ousted amidst an economic downturn that has rocked most of Central and Eastern Europe. The new Prime Minister is almost certainly to be Victor Orban of the centre-right Fidesz party which last governed between 1998 and 2002. Fidesz had campaigned on cutting taxes, creating jobs and supporting local businesses to boost to Hungary's economy, which contracted by 6.3 percent last year. Unemployment is running at 11.4 percent.

Fidesz secured 206 out of 386 parliamentary seats, the National Election Committee said, based on individual constituencies and party list votes. The Socialists won 28 seats, just ahead of 26 for Jobbik, a far-right Hungarian nationalist party that is both an anti-Roma (gyspy) and anti-Semitic. Jobbik now enters the Hungarian Parliament for the first time having won one in six votes.

The green liberal LMP party also passed the threshold to get into Parliament, securing a modest five seats. A second round of voting will be held on April 25 when the remaining 121 seats will be decided. It is possible if not probable that Fidesz will secure a two-thirds governing majority that will allow it to implementing deep structural reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund. Already the outgoing Socialist government led by technocrat Gordon Bajnai had made painful budget cuts to rein in the deficit under the deal led by the IMF.

Below the fold more on the disturbing rise of the Jobbik party.

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Indifference Wins In France; A Same but Different Election in Colombia

Vive La Indifference!
French voters, 52 percent of them anyway, went to the polls in a first round of regional elections. Indifference was the biggest winner. The abstention rate for the ballot is a record low for a French regional election. Beyond that, the election saw a drubbing of President Nicolas Sarkozy's right of centre UMP (Union for a Popular Movement). Not surprising given that unemployment is at a 10-year-high and the rampant cronyism that pervades the Sarkozy Administration.

Results released by the French Interior Ministry with about 80 percent of the votes counted showed the Socialists and their allies, who already control 20 of the 22 regions of mainland France, winning about 29 percent of the vote. Mr. Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement had 26 percent to 27 percent. The French Green party and a likely ally of the Socialists, Europe Ecologie, did very well pulling in 11.6 percent, while the right-wing party of Jean Marie Le Pen National Front (FN) scored an impressive comeback with 11.7 percent of the vote after being written off for dead. Indeed, the FN nearly tripled its voting percentage over its 2007 results helped by the low turnout. Another minor party, the Democratic Movement, was trailing badly with 4.3 percent of the vote, behind the far-left Trotskyite party.

The election was for 1,880 seats on regional governments in mainland France and in overseas regions from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. It will have little bearing on President's Sarkozy ability to govern as it does not affect the National Assembly. Still for the French President, this was a stinging rebuke bound to be compounded in next week's second round round-offs.

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Poll Results in Romania and Bolivia

There were two critical elections held on Sunday, one in Romania and another down in Bolivia. Additionally, over the course of the week results continued to pour in from last weekend's election in Namibia.

Namibia

Still incomplete returns point to a landslide in this resource-rich but sparsely populated country in south-western Africa. In early returns, Hifikepunye Pohamba, the country's president and leader of the governing  South West African People's Organization (SWAPO), had won six of every seven votes. About 1.18 million people had registered to vote in the November 27-28 elections in Namibia. Initial results from the presidential race showed Pohamba securing 67 percent of the 85,361 certified ballots cast while the nascent opposition party that spun off from SWAPO, the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) candidate Hidipo Hamutenya, the former foreign minister, trailed with 12 percent in a 12 person race.

SWAPO has ruled Namibia since independence in 1990 but the party has been rocked by a number of corruption scandals, including one involving Hu Haifeng the son of China's president Hu Jintao.

Fourteen parties were contesting seats in the parliamentary elections. In the outgoing Parliament, SWAPO held 55 of the 72 seats. Results indicate that SWAPO will retain at least two-thirds of the seats but fall short of its previous three-quarter hold. The RDP, meanwhile, seems poised to win at least ten percent of the seats.

Romania

Amidst a severe economic downturn, Romanians returned to the polls for a second round run-off between the incumbent Traian Basescu who leads the centrist Democratic Liberal Party and Mircea Geoana of leftist Social Democrats. According to the exit poll results of sociological institute INSOMAR, cited by the Romanian news site Ziare Romensti, Geoana, a former foreign minister has eked out a narrow win with 51 percent of the votes cast Sunday, whereas Basescu got 49 percent. Another exit poll by CCSB gives Geoana 51.2 percent versus 48.8 percent for Basescu. However a poll from CSOP gives Basescu a 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent win.

Both men have claimed victory setting the stage for continued political instability for this troubled country of 21.5 million people. Romania is a parliamentary Republic and this election is for the President who in turn appoints a Prime Minister to head the government and run day-to-day affairs. The President largely sets the country's foreign policy. This past October, the minority three party coalition government fell in a no confidence vote, the first such vote since 1990.

The Romanian economy is set to contract this year by 8.8 percent. After years of record economic growth fueled by easy credit and heavy foreign investment based on a neo-liberal economic model, Romania's economic fortunes collapsed last year in the wake of the global financial crisis. Romania has also been impacted by downturns in Spanish and Italian construction sectors. Some ten percent of Romanians live outside Romania working in construction and working as domestics or day laborers. In 2007, Romanians abroad sent €7 billion back home; this remittances are barely expected to top €5 billion.

Today's elections were a run-off. The first round was held back on November 22. That election was marred by allegations of multiple voting and votes being bought. There were similar reports Sunday. Turnout was high at 57 percent. While the campaign centered on economic issues and concerns of political instability, the final week before the election was dominated by a video posted on Youtube from a 2004 campaign rally in which then President Basescu appeared to strike a 10-year-old boy in the face. The Basescu campaign dismissed the video saying that it had been altered.

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