Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Looking Forward to 2009

Several post-Soviet states should hold elections in 2009.

Moldova is due for parliamentary elections in the spring, and politicians are already preparing for balloting. President Vladimir Voronin recently rejected an EU recommendation to lower the relatively high 6% electoral threshold. This barrier has enhanced the proportion of wasted votes (23.5% in 1998, 17.8% in 2001, and 14.7% in 2005) and has prevented some parties with reasonable levels of electoral support from gaining seats (e.g., Democratic Party of Moldova in 2001). The threshold has also enhanced disproportionality in seat allocation, benefiting the Party of Communists which took 55% of the seats with 46% of the vote in 2005. While rejecting efforts to lower the threshold, Voronin's Party of Communists has proposed a law requiring candidates to be vetted by security services prior to gaining ballot access. This effort, coupled with the possible closure of an independent TV station, does not augur well for improvements in the quality of elections.

On the heels of its parliamentary election and referendum on the Ignalina power plant in 2008, Lithuania should hold a presidential contest in late spring 2009. While some sources characterized the parliamentary election as having an anti-EU flavor, this interpretation was challenged by a Lithuanian blogger and political observer. The referendum on extending the life of the Ignalina plant implied that Lithuanians might challenge EU rulings, but it failed. The election produced a highly fragmented parliament (with the effective number of electoral parties index at nearly 9). Homeland Union was the "winner," but it garnered only 45 seats, or 26% of the Seimas. The coalition government, confirmed on December 9, 2008, leans center-right and includes: Homeland Union (PM, plus finance, foreign affairs, economy, social security/labor, agriculture, and defense portfolios), Liberal Movement (Justice, Transport and Communications, Education and Science), Liberal Center Party (Health and Interior), and National Resurrection Party (Environment and Culture). With the previous presidential election in 2004 following the impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas, the upcoming election should be highly contested.

The biggest question mark on the 2009 election calendar is Ukraine. After President Viktor Yushchenko issued a decree to dissolve parliament and hold early elections in December 2008, a new coalition seems to have taken hold. While an agreement among the Bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko, Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense, and the Bloc of Volodymyr Lytvyn was signed on December 16, the power struggle is far from over. President Yushchenko is exploring the expulsion of deputies from his party who supported the coalition. An early parliamentary election is not out of the question. The presidential election, due five years after the remarkable 2004 election, may take place in late 2009 or early 2010.

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