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    Slovakia: election sees parties changing direction to keep the far-right out of power

    At the heart of most elections is a choice between continuity and change. But in the looming parliamentary vote in Slovakia, all parties are promising to shake things up. Even the ruling party Smer (which means “direction” in Slovak) has rebranded itself as “New Smer”. Billboards featuring Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini promise a “responsible change”. […] More

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    Matteo Salvini fails to make waves in local election but Italy's government remains on a knife edge

    A regional election in northern Italy has delivered a blow to populist right-wing figure Matteo Salvini. But while the centre-left candidate in the elections for the Emilia-Romagna region saw off the populist threat – with the help of a grassroots campaign movement called The Sardines – his party’s national government looks far from secure.
    Stefano Bonaccini’s re-election as the governor of Emilia-Romagna matters because it has given hope that the erosion of the left’s traditional dominance of local politics in the four central regions once known as the red belt: Tuscany, Umbria, the Marches and Emilia-Romagna, is not unstoppable.
    Emilia-Romagna is the richest, most populous and, historically, also the most solidly left-wing area in the red belt. But the right-wing League has been growing in popularity in the area since Salvini took over the party in 2013. He saw this regional election as a golden opportunity to bring down the government – a fragile coalition between the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement M5S). The latter had been in national government with Salvini until their partnership collapsed in 2019 and many see the new arrangement as being geared more towards keeping Salvini away from power rather than providing a functioning administration.
    Salvini therefore sought to turn this regional election into a test of whether the national government enjoyed the confidence of the electorate. A right-wing victory would have set off a campaign to force the governing parties to stand down and hold a general election.
    The League has become increasingly popular in Emilia-Romagna, while the incumbent PD has been shrinking, so the vote was considered winnable by Salvini and his supporters.
    How the parties compare. Davide Pellegrino, Author provided
    Pre-election polls showed the race between Bonaccini, the PD-backed candidate for the governorship, and Lucia Borgonzoni, the League’s candidate, was in fact very tight.
    Sardines against Salvini
    Salvini ran a polarising campaign, which in turn sparked a new grassroots movement on the left called the Sardines. This group was started by ordinary citizens opposed to the radicalism of Salvini’s League.
    As a result, turnout hit 67.7% in this regional election – a significant increase on 2014, when just 37.7% of eligible voters took part. This mirrors recent events in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Spain, where the possibility of an electoral victory for a populist radical right party has increased interest in politics and boosted participation.
    How the local results break down. Davide Pellegrino, Author provided
    But Bonaccini’s success appears heavily tied to his personal appeal. He himself is considerably more popular than the coalition of parties that backed his election. Meanwhile, the PD’s ally in government, the M5S, has almost disappeared in the region. It shrank to a pitiful 4.7% of the vote, while the League won 32%, similarly to the most recent EU election. These are all bad signs for the government.
    What now for the national government?
    The very poor performance of the M5S in this election (and in the other regional election held on the same day in Calabria) is bound to cause instability for the national government. The party has never done well at local and regional levels but this result, coupled with recent turmoil at the top, will be taken by many as a sign of imminent collapse.
    The party’s leader, Luigi Di Maio, recently resigned, unable to command the support of the party as it slumped in the polls since entering government one and half years ago.
    Salvini failed to topple the governing parties in this regional vote. EPA
    Since 2018, 30 M5S parliamentarians have either been fired or have quit to join the League or other groups. More could now follow, which would be deadly for a governing coalition with a very small majority in the Senate.
    Even if no one leaves, internal tensions within the M5S may still bring the governing coalition to an end, as more and more M5S representatives judge its experience in power alongside the left as a failure. Moving to the opposition benches would at least allow the M5S to recover its long-lost “purity” as an anti-establishment party
    As for the PD, it is still in search of an identity and an electoral strategy 12 years after having been founded. In Emilia-Romagna it basically owes its victory to others (particularly the incumbent governor, Bonaccini, and his ability to attract the votes of former M5S supporters).
    While it is difficult to say when a general election will happen, it seems unlikely that the governing coalition can hold. The PD’s victory in Emilia-Romagna has bought it a little time, but we do not expect the two governing parties to stick together until the end of the legislature. More

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    Matteo Salvini fails to make waves in local election but Italy’s government remains on a knife edge

    A regional election in northern Italy has delivered a blow to populist right-wing figure Matteo Salvini. But while the centre-left candidate in the elections for the Emilia-Romagna region saw off the populist threat – with the help of a grassroots campaign movement called The Sardines – his party’s national government looks far from secure. Stefano […] More

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    Are Europe’s new leaders up to the job? Brussels appointment process raises serious legitimacy questions

    Every six years, in tandem with the European parliamentary election, the EU changes the management of its top jobs. This, in turn, affects the composition of its institutions. The five key places to be filled are the European Commission president, the European Council president, the president of the European Parliament, the head of the European […] More

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    Five things to look out for in the European elections

    Voters across Europe are about to head to the polls to elect 751 members to the European Parliament from across 28 separate member states, representing more than 512m people. The 2019 elections are a mammoth democratic exercise with profound consequences for European citizens and the global role of the EU. Here are five things to […] More

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    European elections guide: what's actually on the ballot paper?

    Despite plans to go ahead with Brexit, the UK will now participate in elections to the European Parliament on May 23.
    Voting in this election will take place across Europe between May 23 and May 26, with different countries holding votes on different days. The majority of member states vote on Sunday May 26.
    Here is what you need to know about voting in the UK.
    Voting in a region rather than a constituency
    The way the country is carved up into voting areas is different to a general election. Rather than hundreds of constituencies, the UK is divided into 12 parts. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are represented as whole nations while England is divided up into nine regions.
    European election voting areas. European Parliament
    Different regions and nations get different numbers of seats. In England, for example, the North-West gets eight and the South-East gets ten. Scotland gets six. Wales gets four. Northern Ireland gets three.
    What’s on the ballot paper
    Since 1999, MEPs from the UK have been chosen using a closed list system (except in Northern Ireland). That means the ballot paper will show a list of parties in boxes. Within each party box there will be a list of candidates.
    A 2014 ballot paper shows how candidates are listed. Shutterstock
    In a region which gets three MEPs, parties will usually list three candidates, if ten, ten candidates. They can’t list more but would be allowed to list fewer. Independent candidates are also listed on the ballot paper separately.
    But voters don’t pick and choose between individual MEP candidates. They get one vote and use it to choose one party, or one independent, marking the box with an X.
    How the counting works
    The way votes are counted in a European election is different to a general election too. A system called d’Hondt is used, which is meant to produce a broadly proportional allocation of seats.
    The total number of votes for each party in each region are counted and then put in order. The party at the top gets seat number one. That is allocated to the candidate at the top of its list.
    The winning party’s vote total is then halved and the whole list is looked at again. Whichever party is on top of this reordered list gets the next seat. That may well be the same party that won the first seat, if it has secured enough support, or it may be another party.
    The party at the top of the second list (if it is a different party) then gets its vote total divided in half and the process is repeated. (If the same party has just won twice, the division is by three). This goes on until all the seats in the region are filled. Parties with less support may never reach the top and won’t win a seat. Chances vary depending on the size of the region.
    How voting might work in a region electing four MEPs. Author provided
    In Northern Ireland, the election is carried out by single transferable vote, a system in which voters do have more than one choice. Citizens are used to this as it is the method for local elections and the Northern Ireland Assembly. They show their preferences by voting 1,2,3 and so on. In an STV system there is no real chance of a “wasted vote”.
    Moving down the list
    So, why is there a list of candidates if you only get to vote for a party? It’s because when each party chooses its representatives, it puts them in priority order. The candidate at the top of the list is the one the party most wants to get elected.
    Candidates on the lower rungs of the ladder have no realistic chance of being elected – I say this as someone who has previously been number nine of ten.
    But if an MEP resigns or dies during their term in parliament, their place is filled by the next person down the list (rather than in a by-election). This has actually happened. When Diana Wallis, Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber resigned in 2012, she was replaced by Rebecca Taylor. For these purposes, defecting out of a party does not count as a vacancy.
    How Brexit changes the game
    Voters may feel the ballot papers for this election are longer than usual. That’s because they are. They feature several new parties, such as Change UK and the Brexit Party, as well as some other less familiar ones, such as The Yorkshire Party.
    We are also seeing the rise of so-called “celebrity candidates” such as Boris Johnson’s sister Rachel Johnson for Change UK and former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe for the Brexit Party. But it’s worth remembering that these celebrity candidates are there to raise profile more than anything. Because the contest is between parties, no aspiring MEP can really call on a “personal vote”.
    Of course the UK MEPs may not take their seats, or may take them only for a short period of time. Assuming the UK leaves the EU, some other countries are electing “shadow MEPs” who will effectively take up the empty seats in the parliament on the UK’s departure.
    European elections in the UK are rarely about Europe. They are generally seen, by journalists, campaigners and public alike, as massive opinion polls. In fact I have seen some campaign leaflets in the past which fail to mention the parliament at all.
    This time however, the elections are about Europe, although they are generally about decisions MEPs have no power to take. So a vote for the Brexit party, for example, won’t give its MEPs the power to speed up Brexit (the European Parliament can’t do this). However people vote though, will act as a signal to the UK government and House of Commons about what they think of the current state of play with Brexit. More

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    European elections: a beginner’s guide to the vote

    The European Parliament elections are not unlike cricket. Both can last for quite a few days and it can be pretty hard to understand the rules. This year’s European elections take place between May 23 and 26 and different countries vote on different days. It’s not surprising that few people bother to vote in these […] More