In quiet US day, European voters go to the polls

This blog might be devoted to U.S. politics, but that is no reason to shun important elections happening abroad, especially on a slow American news day like today. French and Spanish voters went to the polls today, respectively for municipal and legislative elections -- and in both countries the Socialist Party emerged victorious.

Let's start with France and its municipal elections. This might seem to be a particularly unimportant contest, but French politics looks nothing like America's. First, nearly all major national political figures hold local office, and many of them don't hesitate to jump in competitive elections. Former President Jacques Chirac, for instance, spent 18 years as Mayor of Paris (from 1977 and 1995), and spent some of those as Prime Minister!

Second, France does not have a federal system and its government is centralized, which means that local elections are read as national tests. In fact, local elections are the only midterms the government is confronted to in five years. Newly elected conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy has been sinking to Bush-like approval ratings, as his part-authoritarian part-self-aggrandizing mode of governance is irking the electorate (more so, unfortunately, than his odious stigmatization of immigrants and his law-and-order pandering). The Right was going in today prepared to suffer an electoral rout.

While it wasn't quite as bad as some polls were making it seem like, the night undoubtedly belonged to the Left and represented a first warning to Sarkozy. While this was only the first round -- runoffs in cities in which no one crossed 50% (which is most of the major ones) will be held next week -- the trends were favorable to the opposition.

The Socialist Party triumphed in Paris and Lyon (France's 1st and 3rd biggest cities), two cities it had narrowly conquered in 2001. The size of its lead tonight in both communes is truly impressive. The Mayor of Paris (who might run in the next presidential elections) will have to wait for the runoff to be officially reelected, but today's results leave no doubt that he will get a very large majority. The Left also successfully defended some municipalities that were supposed to be endangered and looks very well placed to pick-up important cities held by the Right (Strasbourg, Caen, Rouen...). The tightest races next week will take place in Toulouse (the country's 4th largest city) but most importantly in Marseilles (the 2nd), where few observers gave the Left any chance just a few weeks ago.

One last note about the French elections, for I have to say that the Democrats' delegate attribution system has nothing to envy to the rules in place to attribute seats in the municipal councils of the three biggest French cities (Paris, Lyon and Marseilles). Each city is divided in (8 to 20) sectors, each of whom has a certain number of seats that are divided proportionally with a bonus to the winner. Trying to figure out who was ahead in Marseilles, therefore, led me to try and look at the percentages in each sector and add up the totals... as if I wasn't busy enough figuring out the district-by-district delegate breakdowns in the Democratic primaries.

Meanwhile, voters were also called to the polls today in Spain for the country's legislative elections. Why those matter is much more obvious: The contest was to determine the country's governing majority and thus the Prime Minister, since Spain relies on a parliamentary system. Facing each other were the Socialist incumbent, Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, and the conservative candidate, Mariano Rajoy. This was a rematch of the 2004 election which Rajoy seemed promised to Rajoy until the last few days before the election. The Madrid terrorist attack occurred 3 days before the election, and the conservative government screwed up its handling of the crisis, blaming basque separatists when the evidence pointed to Al Qaida. Three days later, Zapatero rallied from significant deficits and triumphed with a 5% win. His victory was viewed a rebuke to the Bush Administration since it was directly attributable to the incumbent government's involvement in the Iraq War.

This time, Zapatero led throughout the campaign though the margins were typically narrow. And when yet another terrorist act (the murder of an elected official) froze all campaigning earlier this week, it looked like anything could end up happening today. But with all the results now in, Zapatero held to his lead, as his party defeated Rajoy's by 3% -- and about 15 congressional seats. Zapatero can now embark on a second term, after 4 years in which he carried out a socially liberal program (legalizing gay marrige and adoption, for example) but failed to distinguish himself from the Right when it came to economic matters.



  • I would like to say that youre blog has the best political analysis Ive seen, Im very glad to have stumbled with with this blog

    By Blogger Javier, At 10 March, 2008 01:50  

  • I have followed this year Spanish election and the career of The PM Zapatero or (ZP as he is known) and he is one of the most prominent "Modern Left" leaders and deeply admired by the left and center parties around the world

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 10 March, 2008 01:54  

  • But ZP hasn`t run the Spainish economy very well with unemployment the highest it has been for this decade and inflation increasing - admittedly joing the Euro hasn`t helped because control of interest rates has been ceded. He needs to focus on bread and butter issues like the economy and jobs rather than the politicially correct things of gay/lesbian rights, divorce etc.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 10 March, 2008 07:53  

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