Sometime they’ll call general elections and nobody will come – and no: this is not a paraphrase on Bertolt Brecht. The American writer Carl Sandburg was the author of the original quote. And the “sometime” Sandburg wrote about could very well have been last Sunday – in Germany – and Tuesday – in Israel.
Elections for State Legislatures in Germany
The elections in Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz and Sachsen-Anhalt were expected with some interest from the political class as they were the first major test of the Grand Coalition in Berlin, and you could argue that the coalition performed nicely at the polls as the Liberal Party turned out to be the main loser.
In Sachsen-Anhalt, the FDP lost nearly half of its votes while the quirks of the German electoral system meant that the SPD gained to overall majority in Rheinland-Pfalz.
From the point of view of the Chancellor, the good news then was that a Red-Yellow coalition in Rheinland-Pfalz will be replaced by a Social Democratic government and that the Black-and-Yellow coalition in Sachsen-Anhalt will be replaced by a Grand Coalition. All of this means that the Grand Coalition will control its own qualified majority in the Bundesrat and won’t have to take protests form state governments with Green, Leftist or Liberal coalition partners into account.
The bad news was that not too many voters cared. The turn-out in Baden-Württemberg (one of Germany’s richest states) and Sachsen-Anhalt (one of the poorest) fell through the floor. Only 44% of the voters in Sachsen-Anhalt could be bothered to vote.
I’m a bit tired right now, so I’ll just post some links to sites with a comprehensive coverage in German:
- Frankfuter Allgemeine Zeitung: Landtagswahlen.
- Süddeutsche Zeitung: Landtagswahlen 2006.
- Die Zeit: Landtagswahlen 2006.
Israel: New Parties, Old People and Not Too Many Voters
The Israeli elections must have been a nightmare for pollsters.
First, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left his own party and founded a new one with basically one issue on its programme: Disengagement from the Palestinian Territories (or most of them, anyway). Upheavals like this usually mess up the finely tuned models used by polling organisations, effectively leaving the result of the elections unpredictable.
Second, the very same Sharon suffered a massive stroke which left him in a long-term coma and probably brain-damaged. Sharon was replaced by his less than charismatic deputy Ehud Olmert and at this point most sensible pollsters would shurely have considered getting out of business fast.
In the end, the opinion polls missed the target as Sharon’s Kadima Party only gained around 30 seats – instead of the predicted 40 – in the new Knesset. Negotiations leading up to the formation of new governments are usually a messy business in Israel and I think that will be a safe prediction this time.
Turn-out was low in Israel as well and if we exclude the demographic and legal complexities regarding the true level of turn-out, I think we can find two general explanations in this case:
- The question of disengagement vs. continued presence in the West Bank was not the only issue in the campaign but it was a major one. The problem is that while military and settler presence in the West Bank hasn’t guaranteed Israeli security, it is very uncertain if disengagement will have the desired consequences. There’s not much to be enthusiastic about even if you are a dove.
- With regard to the next government, voters faced the choice between Ehud Olmert and – well – Ehud Olmert. Likud was heading for collapse and Labor is not a major independent force in Israeli politics. Add a scattering of ethnic and religious parties and what you have is Kadima as the only centre in a new government.
For the record: I’ve enjoyed reading Israeli blogger Shai Tsur’s posts about the campaign. His Wednesday Morning Quarterback post is here. You may want to check out his Flikr photosets from the campaign and the election day as well.