IN the recent past, a slew of elections were held in various countries. A study of these election results will help us in understanding the political developments.
Recently, parliament elections were held in Nepal – the first after the republican constitution was adopted. The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists-Centre) contested the election in alliance. Out of the 165 parliament seats, for which representatives were elected according to the first-past-post system, they had secured 116 seats. The Nepali Congress secured only 23 seats. The results for the 110 seats, for which representatives will be chosen according to the proportional representation system are yet to be announced. In the elections held to the local bodies, both the parties together won 401 (53 per cent) of the total 753 seats of chairperson/mayor of the village councils/municipalities.
These results show that both the communist parties together constitute a major political force in the country. CPN-UML and CPN-MC have promised to unite both their parties after the complete declaration of the election results. In the elections to the parliament, they promised the country political stability, national prosperity and protection of the rights of the marginalised communities. They had also promised to raise the per capita income, ensure that the unemployed youth are provided jobs and develop infrastructural facilities.
For the past thirty years in Nepal, no government had lasted its complete five-year term. The average period a government lasted was only one year. Various permutations and combinations were worked out in the past, with the CPN-UML, CPN-MC and Nepali Congress forming alliances and breaking them. It is this instability that rocked the constitution writing process too and had delayed the election of a federal legislature on its basis. The resultant instability and political wrangling between the parties pushed to the back, the ‘bread and butter’ concerns of the people. This provided an opportunity to the growth of monarchist and right-wing forces.
The coming together of the CPN-UML and the CPN-MC is welcomed by a majority of the people. It helped galvanising the Left forces in the country, as it symbolised the unity of the Left, rather than the Left with one or the other bourgeoisie party fighting the other. The unity of Left and the promise of subsequent merger, enthused the people to vote in big numbers for these parties. The ruling class, represented by the Nepali Congress, sought to counter this Left alliance by forming an alliance of their class representative parties, including the pro-monarchy party.
People hope that the promised merger of the CPN-UML and CPN-MC will be based on a programmatic understanding and will lead subsequently to the emergence of a stronger communist party. Experiences show that any merger that is not based on thorough programmatic discussions will not lead to the building of real unity. Merger apart, the Left alliance itself sends a strong message on the necessity of such a unity to keep away the ruling classes from assuming State power. The opportunistic alliance of the Nepali Congress with the monarchist party has exposed their commitment to secularism and the republican constitution.
On the other side of the hemisphere, in Venezuela, three elections were held in a span of 140 days – elections for the constituent assembly, provincial governorships and for electing local body chiefs. In all the three elections, the Chavista party, PSUV had emerged victorious. In the municipal elections in which the voter turnout was 47.2 per cent, the PSUV had won 327 of the 335 (97.6 per cent) mayoralties. This is a major gain for the PSUV, which had also won all 545 seats in the elections held for the constituent assembly in July. Of course, it should be noted that four of the group of 22 opposition parties [Opposition Roundtable, MUD], had boycotted these elections.
The conduct of these elections in Venezuela broke the opposition unity. They brought an end to the violent street protests that were organised against the government, which had the open support of the US administration. They helped uniting major sections of the Chavistas in defence of the Maduro government and against imperialist ‘economic warfare’ and destabilisation efforts.
In the US, Donald Trump had received a mighty blow in the recently concluded elections. In the elections for the Senate in Alabama, a deeply conservative state that last elected a Democratic senator 25 years ago, the Republicans have lost. Though it is an election for one seat, it has huge symbolic value. The victory of the Democrats is also a reflection of the anger against misogynists and sexual predators, who unashamedly are leading prominent public lives.
It’s almost one year since Trump was elected as the president of the US. According to Gallup poll (December 4-10, 2017), he had an approval rating of 36 per cent, which is the lowest for any US president till date for a similar period. The victory of the Democrats in Alabama is reflecting this disapproval along with the presence of a strong undercurrent.
In the elections held to various state legislature seats, mayoralties, city council seats and judgeships, the Republicans lost badly. And it is not only the Democrats who had gained from this Republican debacle. In a striking phenomenon, a large number of progressive democrats and openly democratic socialists won in these elections. In some instances, they had won even contesting against both the major political parties – Democrats and Republicans. Political parties and groups like Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Our Revolution (a group that has emerged from the volunteers who had campaigned for Bernie Sanders during the election to the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries) put up an impressive performance. The DSA claims that for the first time in its history, 56 per cent of its members who contested the elections won, way more than the earlier 20 per cent who got elected.
The DSA and other progressives campaigned on an open and unapologetically progressive agenda. They demanded a $15 minimum wage, higher taxes on the rich, medicare for all, tuition-free college, rights of women, minorities, against the attacks on Afro-Americans, Latinos and other migrants. They claimed openly that they belong to the Left and insisted that the ‘only way to fight Trumpism is to embrace an unapologetic message that appeals to all working people’. They were supported by the movements like Black Lives Matter, the ‘Occupyists’ and other progressive forces.
The success of ‘socialist’ candidates and the prominent role of Left-wing platforms suggest that ‘a Left message is no recipe for electoral apocalypse and is a positive vote-winner’. Many are already rooting for Bernie Sanders to take up the cudgel once again on their behalf and run for the presidency, even outside of the Democrat platform.
Europe in the recent period witnessed elections mainly in Germany, Iceland, Austria and Netherlands. In Germany, though the right-wing Christian Democrats (CDU) of Merkel emerged as the single largest party, they are yet to form a government. Talks for alliance partners are inconclusive. The far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) had emerged as a significant electoral force winning 13 per cent of the vote. The Social Democratic Party registered its worst post-war electoral performance, securing only 20 per cent vote.
In Austria, the Austrian People’s Party (OVP) emerged victorious. Under the leadership of the 31 year-old Sebastian Kurz, the Party took a further rightward turn on immigrant and refugee issues. As a foreign minister in an earlier government, Kurz had argued for limiting refugees support, ban on burqa and against immigration. Many point to the similarities of this agenda with that of the far-right Freedom Party, and call the OVP as Freedom Party-lite.
In Iceland, the three parties that made up the center-right coalition government lost, but the traditional opposition parties did not gain. Two new entrants, centre of right parties, benefited. Similarly, in Netherlands, the centre-right, VVD won the elections, but the far-right PVV emerged in the second position. The social democratic PvdA, slumped to a historic low.
A broad, overarching trend that can be observed in the elections held in Europe and the US is that conventional political parties are fading, while new parties and movements that are projecting themselves as anti-establishment are gaining. They are benefiting from the widespread resentment against the neoliberal policies and its austerity measures. Traditional social-democrats, the reformist Left, is losing its base as it is considered part of the establishment in its adherence to neoliberalism.
With the emergence of new movements and parties, both on the Left and Right, the old division as Left and Right is no longer the same. There are today, many shades among both the right and Left-wing parties. The CDU of Germany and VVD of Netherlands (right-wing parties), share similar economic agenda with the far-right parties AfD and PVV in their respective countries, but differ on questions like immigration. Similarly, differences and commonalities also exist on the Left, whose spectrum ranges from the various reformist social-democratic parties, to the new Green-Left parties, parties like the DSA and the communist parties. These nuances are essential in noting the political developments.
The fact is, people are seething with anger and are aligning with those parties considered to be honest and ‘liberate’ them from neoliberal burdens. All the traditional parties are being viewed as hypocrites and untrustworthy. Communist parties and Left which are considered truly anti-establishment and consistent in leading struggles are rewarded with peoples’ trust, which is getting reflected in the election results.