Reading List – 15th May 2020

Apologies for not having done one of these for a while…

 

Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie’s Moscow Center argues that Russia could be squeezed out of a new bipolar world where everything comes down to the USA and China. And while this may be a relief to some in sanctions-affected Russia, he argues that the risk is that Russia loses relevance.

 

In Time Magazine, David Miller argues that just because Netanyahu can annex parts of the West Bank doesn’t mean he will.

 

Nana Kalandadze of International IDEA looks at the aborted attempt to hold an all-postal ballot in Poland last weekend.

 

Reading List – 21st February 2020

Three staff of the American NGO NDI have been expelled from Togo. The three were accredited as election observers by the Togolese electoral commission and had been working with a non-partisan local group to help them plan domestic observation of the forthcoming presidential election.

 

As Iran heads to the polls today, CNN’s Luke McGee previews the election in which hardline candidates are set to dominate as many moderates were barred from running. However the bigger factor might be turnout.

 

 

Special polling stations will be set up so that Israelis who are quarantined will still be able to vote in the March 2nd general election.

 

 

Axios reports that President Trump has cut back on his spending on Facebook despite the platform abstaining from making policy changes that would hurt him. As social media platforms signalled they might change policies on political advertising, Trump lobbied Facebook hard not to restrict his ability to mictro-target. While his spending on Facebook adverts is still significant, it is now a much smaller proportion of his advertising budget having fallen from a monthly high of 72% to just 14% and most ads are aimed at increasing his private voter information lists.

 

Elections to watch – 2020

It’s no surprise that the USA will host the biggest, most expensive and most important elections of the year on November 3rd. Donald Trump’s efforts to gain a second term will be played out across news bulletins around the world, whilst his various Democratic opponents will aim to get airtime when faced with the most media-dominant President in history.

It is often said that a second term president becomes a lame duck almost immediately, but that won’t be the case for Trump who has shown that he is willing to make quick, and often un-signalled, decisions on major issues. Apart from tax reform, Trump has relied less on legislation than almost any President before him. But he has been willing to withdraw from international agreements and upset the established liberal world order like never before.

Down-ballot, the chances of radical shifts in the House or Senate are slim, but we will see how the impeachment efforts will play out on those races.

However the US elections are far from being the only pivotal polls in 2020. Two contests – in Georgia and Belarus – will help us to understand the limits of Russian influence in countries in their immediate orbit and a third – Serbia – is a traditional Russian ally.

There are also re-runs of elections held originally in 2019 which, for different reasons, failed to produce a result. Israel will hold its third election in a year whilst Bolivia will attempt a clean election following the departure of Evo Morales.

There are also key contests in Egypt and Myanmar – countries dominated by the military – and elections in South Korea, North Macedonia and Iran which will be closely watched by foreign governments as they could signal the impact of international decisions on domestic attitudes. 

Iran, Parliament (March)

Iran continues to play its role as the grit in the oyster of Middle East politics with a network of official and semi-official proxies around the region. The country has always had its reformers and its hardliners and the spring election will be another test of strength between those factions.

Elections in Iran are largely conducted on a professional and democratic basis but with all but 5% of candidates (who represent religious minorities) subject to approval by the Islamic authorities.

The last elections in 2016 saw reformists emerge as the largest faction but without an overall majority. Iran has a reputation for huge numbers of candidates as 6,200 candidates ran for the 290 seats in 2016.

As well as its funding for militant groups and factions, Iran has also built up significant cyber capabilities and has allegedly used them extensively to interfere with the functions of other states for the past two years. Its nuclear programme is of concern to the west and the USA has pulled out of the JCPOA leading some to wonder whether military strikes are imminent. Iran’s position on the Staits of Hormuz also gives it unique powers to affect the world’s oil supplies.

Every country will be watching these elections with interest to see if the results may affect any of these interests. But it seems safe to predict that there will be no outcome that would comprehensively reverse any aspect of Iran’s current course.

Israel, Parliament (March)

The third election in Israel in a year will again be between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz with the former having won his Likud leadership primary at the end of 2019. This poll comes after a second indecisive election and the failure to form a government under Israel’s list election system which splits Parliamentary representation between ten different parties. 

It is impossible to foresee a majority party emerging and this contest will see voters tasked with giving either Likud or Gantz’s Blue and White the upper hand. But there is no provision for what might happen if the parties are again evenly split. Netanyahu has refused to give up the post of Prime Minister in any coalition in which his party features and Gantz refuses to serve under the longest serving Prime Minister the country has ever had.

Bolivia, President, Chamber of Deputies and Senate (March or April)

President Evo Morales stepped aside at the end of 2019 after his election win was found to be corruptly obtained. He won’t be a candidate in the re-run, but that won’t prevent the poll being highly controversial and tightly fought. In the aftermath of the failed poll, Morales sought asylum in Mexico as the army took a grip on the country and many of his former supporters were arrested. Since then there has been a general de-escalation in tensions and detainees have been released. Interim president Jeanine Añez will remain in charge until the vote in March or April.

North Macedonia, Parliament (April)

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev called these early elections after the failure of EU members (largely at France’s behest) to agree the start of accession talks for his country and Albania. The country is also due to become a full member of NATO in the spring. In the last couple of years North Macedonia has formally changed its name to satisfy a long-standing complaint from Greece as well as undertaken large-scale structural reforms to bring it more into line with EU norms. The reward for these unpopular measures was to be the start of the long journey towards EU accession.

The election will pit Zaev’s SDSM against the anti-agreement VMRO-DPMNE of Hristijan Mickoski. The SDSM candidate won the presidential election in May 2019 but the parliamentary poll will be closely fought.

A win for Zaev’s party might give him and his supporters among existing members of the EU a boost before the next summit in June where France may be persuaded to change her stance. New EU President Croatia hs promised to keep the issue high up the institution’s agenda. A win for the opposition would surely end any prospect of further integration measures for the foreseeable period.

South Korea, Parliament (April)

There are significant domestic issues at play in this year’s legislative elections but these will play second fiddle in the minds of other countries to relations between South Korea and its neighbour to the north. At times President Moon Jae-In has been central to peace talks but has recently been sidelined by both President Trump and Kim Jong-Un. And whilst left-wing and pro North Korean parties are banned in the South, there are significant differences between the parties which will be a major factor in voters’ minds.

Proposed changes to the voting system would mean the small PR element changing from a parallel to a compensatory system, favouring smaller parties.

Polls suggest that the Democratic Party is well ahead of its main conservative opponents the Liberty Korea Party but effort to game the new voting system could leave the outcome in the balance.

Serbia, Parliament (April)

North Macedonia and Albania may have been seen as being at the front of the queue for EU accession, but Serbia has also been in the frame for membership for a number of years. And for the largest state in the former Yugoslavia, this would represent a significant departure from historic ties to Russia which seeks to maintain at least one friendly presence in the Balkans.

The major hindrance to western integration is the continued failure to establish common ground with Kosovo. Talks of a land-swap to settle a border dispute between the two were effectively quashed by Angela Merkel who saw this as a dangerous precedent for other countries. 

The current government is led by the pro-Western Ana Brnabić but previous elections have been criticised for the misuse of state resources and the lack of media independence and there is a proposed boycott by a number of opposition parties and groups. With decisions on Kosovo and western-oriented reforms likely to hit the popularity of the SNS government, it is possible that the coming election might be more competitive than assumed.

Belarus, President (August)

Few people will predict anything other than comfortable re-election for President Lukashanka but this election will be more notable for the tone than the outcome. Belarus has sought to maintain a balance between historic and economic ties to Russia whilst trying to avoid being perceived as a puppet of the Kremlin.

One of the potential routes for Vladimir Putin to remain in power after his second (and officially final) term in office comes to an end in 2024 is said to be a formal union with Belarus. This seems unlikely, but tax, currency and other financial ties remain under discussion. At the same time, the West, while being careful not to undermine Lukashenka by getting too close, will keep pressing for reforms such as the abolition of the death penalty.

Last year’s parliamentary elections saw the removal of the only two opposition law-makers from Parliament in what was seen as a retrograde step. Will this contest shed any light on likely succession-planning?

Georgia, Parliament (October)

Electoral reform is not the usual issue to cause mass protests but such is the case in Georgia where a pledge to implement a more proportional system appears to have been abandoned. The state remains heavily dependent on Russia despite the continuing ‘frozen’ conflict over Abkhazia and South Ossetia which the Kremlin recognises as breakaway states but Georgia (and most of the world) does not.

The ruling Georgian Dream party has seen almost half of its support drain away according to the most recent opinion polls, but the main opposition groups have also lost ground. Such fragmentation, as well as possible boycotts, make the elections unpredictable.

Egypt, Parliament and Senate (November)

Egypt’s flirtation with more genuine democracy resulted in the election of the Muslim Brotherhood. Subsequently, President el-Sisi has received significant support from the rest of the world as a bastion against terrorism and he has been able to limit popular expression in the country and put state organs in charge of much of the poll. The removal of the powers of the General Intelligence Directorate to create and approve candidate lists might have been seen as a progressive step, but their role has been taken by the National Security Agency instead. Prominent opposition figures have been arrested but there are reports that the Coalition of Hope, a moderate opposition group, may be about to contest the elections.

Myanmar, Parliament (November)

Aung Sang Suu Kyi, for many years the symbol of opposition to military rule in Myanmar, has lost much of her lustre around the world as she has sought to defend what is seen as possible genocide against the Rohinga people in the west of the country and failed to overturn military dominance – the armed forces still has reserved seats in the parliament which makes fundamental change unlikely. 

How the people will react when given the chance to vote – and how free the military allows the elections to be – will be at issue in this contest. 

Venezuela, National Assembly (December)

The constitutional crisis in Venezuela – with two presidents claiming legitimacy and being backed by different countries – continues. The parliament remians the main opposition to President Nicolas Maduro whilst the Constituent Assembly, extablished to write a new constitution, are his main backers. Officially the constituent assembly will lose its mandate shortly after the parliamentary elections. However the outcome of the vote is unlikely to satisfy both sides and the battle for legitimacy will almost certainly continue.

Moldova, President (date unknown)

Moldova faces a Presidential election less than a year after the unlikely coalition government of pro-Western technocrats and pro-Russian socialists fell apart. That deal was done in order to oust the the Democratic Party of oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc which was widely perceived to be corrupt. However there has been little time to complete reforms and the coming presidential poll will probably see a contest between incumbent Igor Dodon of the Socialist Party and former Prime Minister Pavel Filip who seems likely to receive the Democratic Party nomination.

Israel will go to the polls again in September as coalition talks fail

Fresh elections will be held in Israel on 17th September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to secure a new coalition deal. This will be the first time that the country has faced two general elections in one year.

The results of April’s election were, as ever, inconclusive and required a coalition. Netanyahu seemed in prime position to bring together right wing and religious parties under the leadership of his Likud Party, but former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman held out for his plan to force ultra-orthodox students to complete military service – something that angered religious parties. 

With no deal apparent by the deadline of midnight on Wednesday, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin would have had the ability to ask another member of parliament – either from within the putative right ring coalition or former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz whose Blue and White Party came second – to try to form a government. However the Parliament chose instead to force another election.

Netanyahu will be hoping that he can pin the blame for the failure of talks on Lieberman and persuade voters to return a stronger Likud presence. Gantz will be seeking to capitalise on the failure to form a right wing government to make gains for the centre and left. But any changes in outcome will likely be small and a further period of coalition negotiations will be needed.

One consequence of this vote will be that Netanyahu, who will continue as Prime Minister until the election, will become Israel’s longest-serving leader in July. He is still awaiting possible bribery and fraud charges.

Netanyahu wins in Israel for the 5th time

[Updated to reflect the final vote tallies and that The New Right slipped below the threshold]

Israel has voted and it seems pretty clear that Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in his aim of becoming the country’s longest serving Prime Minister. After a fractious campaign against the new Blue and White Party led by former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Netanyahu is in the best place to form a ruling coalition.

As ever in Israel, no single party has enough seats to form a government on its own. The national list system, combined with a 3.25% threshold, means that there are going to be either 11 or 12 parties in the 120 seat Knesset. And with religious parties and parties on the right being able to muster around 67 of those seats, Netanyahu is in a much stronger position than Gantz.

As things stand, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party holds 36 seats. Their potential coalition partners line up as follows:

Shas 8; UTJ 7; Yisrael Beytenu 5; Kulanu 4; URP 5;

Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party holds 35 seats, and the rest of the opposition is:

Labor 6; Meretz 4; Hadash-Ta’al 6; Ra’am-Balad 4.

After voting was over and all ballots have been counted, there was still some uncertainty. The New Right, a party formed by former Minister Neftali Bennet, was briefly listed as securing 3.26% of the vote. But the Central Election Committee reviewed some of the ballots cast by soldiers and others using an absentee ‘double envelope’ system. As a result,  TNR slipped below the threshold and lost their four seats. This didn’t change the overall outcome of the election that much, but still constitutes a massive failure for Bennet who helped to bring down the previous government when he walked out of Netanyahu’s cabinet.

Formally, the parties have two weeks of horse-trading before the President calls them in to see who can form a government. He does not have to call on a party leader to be the new Prime Minister, but it seems all but certain that Netanyahu will be receiving the call.

The campaign itself was dominated by unprecedented interventions from abroad with Netanyahu getting the explicit backing of Donald Trump (who announced his support for formally recognising the Golan Heights as part of Israeli territory) and implicit support from Russian, Brazillian and Indian leaders. Netanyahu pulled his traditional last minute rabbit out of the hat by suggesting that he will look to annexe much of the West Bank into Israel. Whether he follows through on this pledge is still in the air.

The other key issue is an investigation by the Attorney General into Netanyahu over ossies of corruption. The indictment has been published and looks strong but will the Prime Minister excape being charged by adopting some form of immunity – the so-called ‘French law’? Will he then seek to become President and avoid the courts for a further 10 years? What will that do for confidence in the Israeli political and judicial system? All these are questions that will dominate Israeli politics for some time to come.

Elections to watch 2019

There are around 100 national and multi-national elections due to take place in 2019. But the two polls which will garner the most coverage are one which won’t take place until 2020 – the US Presidential election – and one which may or may not happen – an early UK general election.

However there are some highly significant elections coming up which will have an impact on world affairs. I’ve picked a dozen which I think are worth watching:

 

  1. Nigeria: President and Parliament (due 16th February)

Africa’s biggest oil producer goes to the polls

images-3Nigeria’s general election will see the country choose a President and Parliament for the next four years. The President will be the candidate receiving the most votes, but they will only avoid a second round if they get over 25% of the votes in two thirds of the states. Representatives will be elected from each of 360 single member seats and Senators in 108 single member seats using first-past-the-post.

President Buhari is seeking re-election and will face challenges from at least 15 other candidates led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

One factor in this election will be the on-going challenges of the Boko Haram insurgency in the north.

Chatham House and IRI have each produced primers.

 

  1. Thailand: Parliament (due 24th March)

Will the military hand over power?

181292-004-499f1bb9These elections are taking place five years after the last vote. But any idea that the regime elected in 2014 has been governing since then would be wrong. The 2014 elections were declared invalid as the vote had been delayed in part of the country. Rather than the replacement elections that were due the following year, the army launched a coup d’etat and have been in power ever since. They promised new elections in 2015, 2016, 2017 and again in 2018 but none were held.

After these elections, the new Prime Minister will be chosen by a majority vote of both houses of Parliament. The upper house, the Senate, will be entirely appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the name given to the military junta following the 2014 coup. A late decision to delay re-districting has also caused controversy.

Four political parties have significant support in opinion polls. The Pheu Thai, Forward Future and Democrat parties are broadly oppositional with the Phalang Pracharat being seen as a vehicle for former general and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (pictured).

The main question will be whether the military allows the popular will of the people as expressed through the ballot box to prevail, or whether they seek to impose their chosen candidate as Prime Minister whatever the result.

 

  1. Ukraine: President (due 31st March) and Parliament (due end of October)

Old hands do battle once again as conflict rages in the East

ukraine-presidential-election-timelineHolding elections when a country is engaged in armed conflict is a testing proposition. Ukraine looks like it will be doing so twice in 2019. Crimea has been annexed by Russia and there are ongoing conflicts in the Donbass region which means polls won’t be held there. At the same time, large numbers of ethnic Russian citizens of Ukraine have fled the country. Since the country gained independence in 1991, Ukraine has seen two revolutions and the country has tilted decisively to a pro-western and nationalist standpoint. 

The Presidential election will pitch two old hands against each other with incumbent Petro Poroshenko up against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. However, polls suggest that each of these candidates has high negative ratings and there are likely to be at least a dozen other contestants. You can expect this contest to go to a second round towards the end of April.

Six months later the country will go to the polls again in Parliamentary elections. A lot can and will change before then, but it is likely there will be no bloc with an overall majority.

Elections often see a ramping up in rhetoric and some heated conditions. In most countries that subsides very quickly with no lasting impact. Ukraine, however, might be a different case.

 

  1. Israel: Parliament (due 9th April)

Will Netanyahu win another term?

benjamin-netanyahuIsraeli elections are always complex matters. These early polls have been called after Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition suffered the loss of one of its partners. But the traditional opposition coalition has also fallen apart and so the main challenge will come from the Attorney General – who promises to reach a decision on indicting the PM on fraud bribery and breach of trust charges – and from former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz who has launched a new party.

The outcome of the election (which uses a national list system) will be one where no party is even close to a majority and so coalition negotiations will begin.

 

  1. South Africa: Parliament (due April)

ANC victory looks likely again, but will a genuine challenger emerge?

mg-elections-appWill this election finally see the end for the ANC? Probably not, but the party of Nelson Mandela is mired in corruption allegations and new president Cyril Ramaphosa is having a hard time keeping his party together. He faces challenges from the main opposition Democratic Alliance and the left wing EFF as well as a host of smaller parties.

The ANC still has a commanding lead in opinion polls and failure to win an overall majority would be a massive surprise. But the relative performance of the opposition parties could give an indication as to where the country is heading in the future.

 

  1. India: Parliament (due between April and May) 

Massive forces collide in the world’s biggest democracy

narendramodiIndia will vote this spring in an election that looks likely to produce a hung parliament. There will be 543 MPs elected in single member, first-past-the-post constituencies.

The ruling Hindu Nationalist BJP will head a thirteen party coalition known as the National Democratic Alliance. Their traditional opponents, the Congress Party, will head the United Progressive Alliance. Dozens of other parties and independent candidates will also contest the polls with alliances often based on local interests.

One of the key issues for outsiders will be the influence of fake news and social media in the election. Although the country is one of the world’s poorest, the number of smart phones has grown hugely since the last contest and a huge proportion of the population is said to use these as their main source of news. The spread of false information through social media platforms such as WhatsApp has been reported as being responsible for mob lynchings and parties have put a lot of effort into establishing pyramids for disseminating information about the campaign. As these are closed groups there is no systematic monitoring of what is being said.

 

  1. Australia: Senate and House (due by 18th May for half of the Senate and by 2nd November for the House of Representatives and Territory Senators)

Highly combative election with outcome in the balance

federal-electionAustralia is interesting for election watchers because of its use of compulsory voting (there are 22 countries which do so worldwide) and voting systems. The lower chamber – the 151 member House of Representatives – uses the Alternative Vote (AV or instant run off voting). This is a preferential system in single member seats so the elected representative will have been chosen by more than half of those who vote. The upper chamber, the Senate, has 76 members and is chosen by the single transferable vote (STV). However it is a bastardised form of STV where voters can choose to cast their vote for a party list in party preferred order (a single, simple tick ‘above the line’) or they have to indicate a preference for at least 60% of the potentially hundreds of candidates ‘below the line’.

The two main parties in the country are Labor and the Liberal-National coalition. The coalition held the majority under Premier Malcolm Turnbull until he was deposed as Prime Minister in 2018. He subsequently resigned his seat which was lost to an independent in the subsequent by-election. This also caused the coalition to lose its majority.

Current opinion polls have the two main groupings neck and neck on about 38% but with a marginal preference for the Labor Party in two party preference polling. The Greens are polling at about 9% with the populist One Nation Party on about 6% and others at about 10%.

Australia is a turbulent political environment and this campaign promises to be highly combative.

 

  1. Afghanistan: President (due 20th July)

Failures of liberal international order likely to be exposed again

300px-afghan_elections_2005Afghanistan highlights the truism that good intentions cannot make up for an absence of planning or understanding of local circumstances. The failure of the west to import a sustainable system of democracy into Afghanistan is, of course, mainly due to the civil war which has been on-going since the US started military action in 2001. But many are asking whether democratic politics will ever become the norm in the country.

There are currently ten declared candidates for the poll – all men – including incumbent Ashraf Ghani and his main challenger last time, the country’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.

The 2014 Presidential poll was mired by allegations of fraud. Parliamentary elections were held in 2018 but issues again arose with potential fraud. More than 20 million polling cards are in circulation for a voting age population of 12 million. As voters are permitted to cast their ballot in any polling station, the potential for fraud is high. During the parliamentary elections many polling stations opened late or not at all and there were widespread reports of violent attacks on election day.

 

  1. Canada: House of Commons (due October)

Blue eyed poster boy of the liberals faces his biggest challenge

trudeau-nomination-20180819Darling of the liberals, Justin Trudeau will face re-election in the autumn in a tough contest. He will be challenged from the right by the Conservatives who have recovered from their near fatal defeats of the early 2000’s and even led in opinion polls early last year. From the left will come the challenge of the NDP who are polling around 15%.

Also running will be the Bloc Quebecois who gained just ten seats last time and find it more difficult to challenege a charismatic Francophone in national elections. The party has also seen the majority of MPs left in protest at leader Martine Ouellet, before rejoining after she quit. The Greens mustered just one seat last time but have 5-8% of the polls and could deny the Liberals some seats just by running. The People’s Party, a populist right wing grouping established by a defecting Conservative MP, will also be contesting.

Trudeau has faced the realities of government since his election win four years ago. A number of manifesto commitments have fallen by the wayside – including a pledge to reform the first-past-the-post voting system – but his party still seems likely to be the largest grouping in the new parliament.

 

  1. Argentina: President and Parliament (due October)

How will South America’s second largest country react to Brazil’s rightward shift?

0028857735Argentina is one of a number of South American nations which will hold elections this autumn and is another country to feature compulsory voting with all those aged 18-70 required to cast a ballot. For those aged over 70, voting is not compulsory. Argentina also allows 16 and 17 year olds to vote – again it is not compulsory for this age group.

The President is elected for a four year term using a two round electoral system. To win in the first round the leading candidate must secure at least 45% of the votes cast or more than 40% and be at least 10% ahead of the next candidate. If neither of these conditions is satisfied then the top two candidates will go to a second round four weeks later.

In Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies is elected using a closed list system based on the provinces. 130 of the 257 seats are up for election this year for a four year period. The Senate is elected in thirds and this year eight provinces will elect three senators each. In each province two senators are won by the party gaining the most votes and one senator is won by the party finishing second.

The split nature of Parliamentary elections emphasises the supremacy of the Presidency within the Argentine constitution. President Mauricio Macri (pictured) has confirmed that he intends to run for a second term. One potential opponent will be Cristina Fernandez, his predecessor.

 

  1. Greece: Parliament (due October)

Will Tsipras be rewarded or ousted for Macedonia deal?

macedonia_greece_namedealAlexis Tsipras engaged in some very courageous political steps when he forged an agreement with Zoran Zaev, the Prime Minister of Macedonia to call a truce to the battle over the name of Greece’s northern neighbour. Controversial in both countries, the decision to recognise the Republic of North Macedonia opens up the prospect of the former Yugoslav republic joining both the EU and NATO.

But the cost paid by Tsipras for such an agreement may prove high. His coalition has fallen apart and the Macedonia deal has reinvigorated the opposition. The question is, will the voters reward his courage or punish him for a deal which pollsters say was opposed by two-thirds of Greeks. The election is not due until the autumn and an indicator may come with the Presidential poll this spring in North Macedonia. If voters there have forgiven Zaev, then maybe Greeks will do the same for Tsipras.

The Macedonia issue is not the only concern for voters of course. Immigration and the slowly recovering economy will also feature highly in the minds of electors as they go to vote.

 

  1. Poland: Parliament (due November)

A test for the European Right

200px-lech_i_maria_kaczynscyThe recent trend for populist and right-wing governments is exemplified in Europe by both Poland and Hungary. And whilst in Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban has steadily drifted rightwards whilst being in power, in Poland the Law and Justice (PiS) party gained power at the last election from their main opponents Civic Platform (PO). The two parties remain at the head of opinion polls with seven others hovering between 3 and 7%.

The election will be conducted by open list PR voting with a 5% threshold.

Over the last four years, the PiS has held an overall majority and has used this to make it more difficult for the Supreme Court to overturn government decisions and to give the government greater control over state TV and radio. These changes have led to protests by opposition parties. The question for voters is whether to consolidate the right wing government or drift back towards the centre.

Facebook rolls out new political ad rules

Facebook has announced that it is rolling out new rules on the use of its platform for political advertising in some of the countries with elections due this year. This is just one of the developments to take place on this issue in recent days.

Reuters reports that beginning on Wednesday in Nigeria, only advertisers located in the country will be able to run electoral ads, mirroring a policy unveiled during an Irish referendum last May.

The same policy will take effect in Ukraine in February. Nigeria holds a presidential election on Feb. 16, while Ukraine will follow on March 31.

In India, which votes for parliament this spring, Facebook will place electoral ads in a searchable online library starting from next month.

The library will resemble archives brought to the United States, Brazil and Britain last year.

However, policies in different countries will vary and  with more than 100 national and international elections taking place in 2019, it appears that Facebook will not be tightening up the rules in every case. Even in large democracies such as  Australia, Indonesia, Israel and the Philippines, Facebook is still deciding what to do. If voters in these countries cannot be sure that the network will introduce transparency rules in time for their votes, how long will it take for the company to reach Macedonia or Bolivia – two more countries which have votes this year.

In other news, Likud has said that it will block Israeli attempts to stop dubious online campaigning in the forthcoming general election. This is despite claims by Shin Bet that another country is planning to try to disrupt the elections. Accusations have previously been levelled at Likud’s use of online campaigning.

And in the UK, the organisation Full Fact has announced that it will start factchecking Facebook posts. This will not be specifically targeted at political or election content but will include such content.

Israel gears up to defend election against cyber attacks

With a general election coming in April, Israeli officials have announced they believe the country is being targeted by foreign players intent on disrupting the process. They are taking action to ensure that online activities will not affect the poll. The country’s internal security agency Shin Bet has said that a specific country is intent on disrupting the poll.

The details of what (and who) is suspected have been redacted. Israel uses paper ballots rather than electronic voting and so the potential to disrupt election day itself is lessened. However the country’s authorities are still concerned about the impact of social media and a large number of apparently fake profiles are under investigation.

The Central Elections Committee has said that it does not believe it currently has the tools needed to deal with an attempt to interfere in the election. However Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he believes the country is well prepared to deal with any such threat.

Electronic interference in an election (whether by a foreign power or someone else) can take a number of forms. At one extreme is a direct attempt to manipulate the results by rigging electronic voting machines or intercepting and changing the electronic results transmissions. That is possible in some countries but much less so in others due to the type of election process.

At the other end of the scale is so-called ‘fake news’. Attempting to police this is extremely difficult. Some things might be demonstrably false but covered by freedom of speech. Other claims might be political conjecture. Israel’s CEC has said that it is for each individual to make up their own mind on such matters and that it will not get involved.

A Parliamentary bill seeking to clamp down on fake news by compelling the authors of any paid political content, including comments, to identify themselves publicly — a move that will apply both to the internet and to more traditional campaign materials, such as posters – has been introduced into the Knesset but with parliament currently in recess until the April elections, it will have to wait until the next national ballot.

There’s a more detailed report here.

Israeli elections scheduled for early April

An Israeli general election will take place in April. The early poll has been on the cards for a few weeks after turmoil within the ruling cabinet, but it will be a more ordered election than many had feared.

There have been a number of fallings out among Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition with the latest dispute about conscription for ultra-orthodox jews.

Netanyahu would be likely to become the longest serving Prime Minister of the country since its establishment in 1948 if he wins in April. However, he is under investigation for alleged corruption offences and the country’s Attorney General is due to decide whether he should be charged.