Monday, June 8, 2009

While I Was Out

After my research trip to Lithuania, I traveled to Georgia and Kazakhstan. While I was unable to blog during my trip, political developments related to elections surfaced across the region.

1) The most notable development was the failure of Moldova's parliament to elect a president, forcing new elections. Frankly, I was surprised at the resolve of the opposition; only one defector would have secured the presidential post for the PCRM. Presumably, the rewards offered to a defector were great. But, the opposition also galvanized and made clear that defectors would be identified (If an opposition member were to defect, this action would be revealed by the MP entering the voting booth). The new election is likely to be quite contentious, with allegations of wrongdoing by the losers a guarantee. As I noted in a previous post, evidence of massive fraud was absent from the precinct-level data, based on my assessment. The opposition wants better control over voter lists to ensure that "dead souls" do not cast ballots. The battle over election administration will heat up over the coming weeks. In addition, as my imedia contact noted, the elections are likely to take place in the late summer or early fall. After this early election, parliament cannot be dissolved for a year. Barring a change in fortunes for one or more parties, the new elections may force the PCRM and opposition to bargain more seriously. Alternatively, Moldova will enter into a state of perpetual political crisis like its neighbor, Ukraine.

2) The party-of power won the hotly contested Yerevan council race, allowing it to win the mayoral seat. Mayoral positions, especially in post-Soviet capital cities, are important staging areas for politicians to launch national political careers. In addition, mayors generally determine who has the right to assemble, and hold sway over municipal police. Levon Ter-Petrossian, the former president and failed candidate in the last election was also unsuccessful in this contest. He and his allies allege that fraud was the primary reason for their loss.

3) European parliamentary elections were held in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and all other constituent members of the EU. Turnout varied across the Baltic states: Estonia's turnout jumped from 26.8% in 2004 to 43.2% in 2009; Latvia's increased from 41.3% to 52.6%; and Lithuania's plummeted from 48.4% to 20.9%. The financial crisis may have encouraged the increased turnout in Estonia and Latvia. The resolution of Lithuania's presidential election in the first round probably depressed turnout; the second round would have been scheduled for the same day as the EU poll. Six Baltic seats went to the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats (1 Estonia, 1 Latvia, 4 Lithuania); four to the Socialist Group (1 Estonia, 3 Lithuania), six to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (3 Estonia, 1 Latvia, 2 Lithuania), five to the Union of Europe of the Nations (3 Latvia, 2 Lithuania), one to the Greens (Latvia), and four to other groups (1 Estonia, 2 Latvia, 1 Lithuania). More information is available on the EU's election site.

4) Protests against Mikheil Saakashvili continued in Georgia, with the opposition demanding his resignation and early presidential and parliamentary elections. During my visit to Tbilisi, I visited the protest site around parliament several times, and was able to speak with some regime opponents. My general sense - based not on scientific data analysis but rather impressions - is that dissatisfaction is deep, but no clear preference for an alternative leader exists. The protest site was occupied during the day, but only a handful of protesters quietly monitored the "cells." Regular evening protest events are more lively, and the opposition has mobilized large numbers in some protest actions. But, the inertia to oust Misha seems to be limited. While people are unhappy, the precedent of removing the president in this manner would likely set off a destructive cycle of protests by election losers.

5) Seven candidates were approved for the July presidential election in Kyrgyzstan, and eleven were rejected.

6) While there were no major election issues during my stay in Kazakhstan, I noted an interesting article in a local newspaper. As Kazakhstan prepares for its presidency of the OSCE beginning in 2010, it has begun staking out its plan for reform. Watch for challenges to the status quo on election observation missions.

7) Ukrainian politicians continue to fight over possible coalition arrangements while positioning themselves for the upcoming presidential election. More on this issue later.