Fabio Amato

European Parliament Election 2014: Post-mortem (Part 5)

In the latest part of my series on the European elections 2014 I’ll cover Italy, Latvia and Luxembourg; I’ll  be skipping over Ireland as my readership is almost exclusively Irish so there wouldn’t exactly be must gained out of writing a section on what is already widely know to them; also I’ll be skipping over Hungary as the Hungarian Workers’ Party, who gained 0.58% in the General election in April, have decided to boycott the elections, with no other group contesting the elections from what I’ve been able to discern; and finally I’ll be skipping over Lithuania as I can’t see any socialist parties amongst the results.

11. Italy

The one thing that can always be guaranteed about Italian politics is that it’s wonderfully incoherent, and in a modern context absolutely obsessed with the notion of electoral reform as the panacea for all political ills.  Something they shared with Ireland’s middle-classes, though with the upside that our electoral system is hard wired into the constitution making it difficult to subject us to the not one, not two, but three reforms to the electoral code that have happened in Italy after the implosion of the conventional order there in the early 1990’s with the “Mani Pulite” scandal and the self-immolation of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). The latest round of electoral reforms involve giving the “winner” an 18% seat bonus and imposing a 12% threshold on coalitions of parties, including an internal 5% on the parties actually in that coalition, and a 7% threshold for parties outside of coalitions.The consequences of this little arrangement would have been to exclude from parliament at the last general election everyone except the Democratic Party (PD) of PM Matteo Renzi, the People of Freedom party (Since dissolved) of Silvio Berlusconi and the Five Star Movement of comedian turned political messiah Beppe Grillo. I should state at this point that Berlusconi fell out with the PD government he’d been bounced into supporting and relaunched his old Forza Italia party, taking the Majority of the PdL’s MPs with him, though not all; the deserters went on to form the “New Centre-Right” party, snappy that! For more on those changes to the electoral system I’d like to direct people towards this article by Giulia Pastorella of the London School of Economics.

As for Italian socialist forces, most of them decided to coalesce into the The Other Europe list, unofficially styled as the “Tsipras list”; included amongst this list were the Re-foundation Communist Party (PRC) and the Sinistra Ecologia e libertá (SEL), with the Pirate Party in tow as well. The Party of Italian Communists (PdCI) were initially part of the alliance too, however they withdrew because of a lack of their people on the lists presented to the electorate. By the by, Fabio Amato of the PRC had a piece in the Transform! Europe/Rosa Luxembourg foundation supplement “Europe has a different future” that was released in March, his piece starts on page 16 and deals with some of the issues surrounding the formation of the Tsipras list; an interesting read, especially illuminating on the meandering position of the SEL and the discord between its grass-roots and its leadership. No other lists of significance were presented to the Italian public as far as I can see from the official results.

My readers will be well aware of my interest in opinion polling so it might not surprise them that I think the most interesting aspect of the results of the election was not the success of the Tsipras list in getting above the 4% threshold imposed on parties in the election, but rather the discord between the actual result and the opinion polling averages for the 9th of May (the last day that it was legal to publish polling; Italy has an embargo on them in the last 15 days before elections). If we look at the polling average (image below) we can see that the PD have been underestimated by a staggering 8.11%, with almost every other party being the subject of an overestimate. I’d imagine that the Italian polling firms will be eager to put all this behind them, though for the layman I’d strongly suggest that this is one of the most important examples as to why opinion polling shouldn’t be taken as infallible. All sorts of errors can creep into polls, including the political biases or political wish-fulfilment of the head honchos and underlings, those biases can ripple through the polling world as other pollsters start to think “Are our methods in the wrong?”, changes occur, polls get further away from reality, and then, crunch, massive error, egg on face etc.

Italian Polling

The Tsipras list in this election just about managed to creep above that 4% threshold as I said above, to elaborate they received 4.03%, 0.03% above the threshold, and indeed a far cry from the collective 34.77% received by the PCI and the Proletarian Democracy party in the European elections thirty years ago in 1984. This 4.03% translated out into 3 seats, a controversy here is that Barbara Spinelli, who ran at the top of the list in almost all the constituencies, was supposed to decline to take up her seat, thus allowing the seats to be divied amongst the constituent groups in the list, however she elected to take the seat in the Centre constituency, leaving the SEL without an MEP, much to their annoyance . Grillo’s lot flopped somewhat with only 21.15% of the vote, down on the 25.55% they got in the general election of 2013, and down as well on the polling shown above; one wonders what the move to sit with Nigel Farage and UKIP in the EFD grouping in Brussels will do for M5S’s support in the future? a wilting of the youthful vote perhaps to the benefit of Italian socialism? EDIT: some might have noticed that I’ve corrected a transcription error above that gave the PCI and Proletarian Democracy a combined 43.77% rather than the 34.77% of reality. apologies for that accidental inflation.

Another amusing aspect of the elections in Italy is the officially published figures for the votes of the Italians living in Ireland, with M5S having the lead with a staggering 41.78% of the 947 votes cast; Tsipras list with 11.83%. Personally I’m inclined to think that the high numbers for the M5S are probably a result of the Italians living in Ireland being detached from the Italian body politic and thus being lead more by the International media’s coverage of Italian politics which has definitely bigged M5S up as the anti-establishment vote.

12. Latvia

Latvia’s political climate has in the past been more amenable to parties associated to GUE/NGL, or likely to associate to them than the other Baltic countries. At the Last election the Latvian Socialist Party (LSP), which is effectively a continuation of the Communist Party of Latvia (LKP), which was the Latvian section of the CPSU, in coalition with the Social Democratic Party “Harmony” (SDPS) as “Harmony Centre” (SC), won a seat that was taken up by Alfreds Rubiks, who was the last head of the LKP before it was banned in 1991 (Rubiks incidentally has some distasteful views on Homosexuality, examples of which can be found here in this article on the LSP’s website); the coalition won two seats in all with a total of 19.57% of the vote. The LSP and the SDPS have in the past been viewed as being pro-Russian and thus it could be argued that a larger than ordinary percentage of their support comes from the large Russian speaking community in Latvia. The SC coalition won a total of 28.36% of the vote in the Latvian general election in 2011, so it would have been expected that they should do well in the European elections, especially considering the political turmoil created for the governing EPP affiliated “Unity” party after the collapse of the roof of a supermarket in Riga last November. Going into the actual election itself, the LSP and the SDPS didn’t run as part of the same coalition but instead as separate entities. Something that didn’t bode well for the LSP’s ability to retain their seat.

Those results proved to be disastrous for the LSP with only 1.54% of the vote, well short of the kind of percentage need to pick-up one of the eight seats up for grabs. It was no better for their former SC allies the SDPS who achieved a very low 13.04% of the vote, not exactly the sort of form that would have been expected for a party that would have been positioning itself up power after the general election due in October of this year. Perhaps a reason as to why they performed so poorly might be to do with the strong showing by the “Latvian Russian Union” with 6.38% of the vote and a seat, perhaps the ground swell of anti-Russian rhetoric might have pushed at least a proportion of Latvia’s Russo-phones towards a party that exists exclusively to represent them rather than parties who are more broadly focused. Though another reason, and one that might explain the strong 46.19% for the “Unity” party, could be the low turnout of only 30.24%, and indeed only 23.4% in Latgale region with its large ethnic Russian population.

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p style=”text-align:center;”>13. Luxembourg

You wouldn’t necessarily think of the little dodgy bankers paradise Luxembourg as fertile ground for socialism in any of its varieties, however that wouldn’t be so true, in fact as recently as 1968 the Communist Party of Luxembourg (KPL) was getting as much as 13.1% of the vote. Alas times changed and the KPL went on the slide, exiting parliament in 1994 with only 1.7% of the vote. However five years on in 1999 they were back, this time as a part of the broader Déi Lénk (The Left) party. The Left entered parliament in 1999 with 3.3% of the vote, small, but an improvement none the less, however this success was short lived as the KPL and the other sectors of the Left fell into disagreement and they contested the 2004 general elections independent of the Left; this split proved fatal as neither managed enough votes to enter parliament. This state of affairs continued through to the general election in 2009 when the Left managed to re-enter parliament, again with 3.3% of the vote and 1 seat, with the KPL achieving a further 1.4%. The Left increased their vote to 4.94% and 2 seats in the 2013 general election, so an outside chance of a seat in the European elections wasn’t to be ruled out.

As far as Luxembourg’s politics in general is concerned, it was dominated for a long time by Jean-Claude Juncker of the Christian Social people’s Party (CSV; EPP affiliated), however he resigned in 2013 over a scandal that involved his mishandling of the Luxembourg secret police, the SREL. Amusingly the EPP adjudged him the right man to replace Barroso as Commission president, though who needs competence when all of your policies come direct from the corporate world?

As to the election itself, the Left managed a creditable 5.76%, and increase both on their 2009 score of 3.37% and their 2013 general election result mentioned above. This result didn’t give them a seat as Luxembourg only has 6 seats to allocate and that small number just doesn’t provide the kind of proportionality that would reward that kind of result with a seat, although it did reward the CSV’s 37.65% with 3 seats, or in other words 50% of the total number of seats available. The KPL got 1.49% of the vote, a modest loss of 0.05% on their result from 2009; they seem to have been truly eclipsed by the Left.

That concludes part five of my series, as always if anyone spots errors please feel free to mention them.