New Zealand: Grant Duncan, Massey University
After a dramatic election campaign that looked promising for the centre-left, New Zealand’s voters have opted instead for conservatism. Special votes are yet to be counted, and coalition negotiations yet to commence. But New Zealanders have opened the way for the centre-right National Party’s fourth consecutive term in office. National’s provisional election night result of 46 per cent is only slightly down from its 47 per cent in 2014.
NZ First won 7.5 per cent of the votes and now holds the balance of power. Two of the minor parties that had formerly supported the National-led government on confidence and supply, the United Future and Maori parties, failed to gain any seats. And the ACT Party, which supports National, was returned with one electorate seat only.
The leader of the largest opposition party, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, did not concede defeat on election night, but her chances of forming a government with the centrist NZ First Party and the Greens are much slimmer. The combined seats of those three parties give a majority of only one. Once special votes are counted, the final official tallies may take a seat away from National and see the Greens gain one, but that will not substantially alter the outcome. Nonetheless, Ardern can claim a victory of sorts, as she has steered her party out of the doldrums, from 25 per cent in the 2014 election to 35.8 per cent this time.
A key question for many western democracies has been 'Why is the Left losing?'. Ardern was seen as the 'brightest hope for the centre-Left'. Labour’s rise has been partly at the expense of the Greens, who have fallen from 10.7 per cent in 2014 to 5.9 per cent this time—although special votes will probably give the Greens a boost. The combined Labour–Green vote of 41.7 per cent is well short of National’s 46 per cent. Although the National Party, after nine years in office, was vulnerable to attacks over problems in housing, health, education and the environment, this has not sufficed to cause a significant swing for change.
Instead of precipitating party-political fragmentation, this election has shifted back toward two-party politics. Both the Greens and NZ First have declined in support. The total National-plus-Labour party vote of 81.8 per cent is the highest it has been under the proportional representation system in place since 1996. Since 2008, the National-led government avoided austerity policies, and gradually (almost imperceptibly) shuffled to the left, dealing reluctantly with issues that were normally on Labour’s territory. The centre of New Zealand politics has shifted leftwards, with a greater acceptance of the role of the state. The free-market fundamentalism of the radical neoliberal years of 1984–96 is now on the fringes. Nonetheless, inequality and poverty are persistent problems, and New Zealanders are well aware of this. Labour has been unable to take advantage of these significant social issues and to convince enough voters to back their messages about hope and change.
Germany: Henning Meyer, LSE
There is no beating around the bush. The election result for the SPD, the worst since World War Two, hurts. It hurts a lot. And while Angela Merkel seemed unduly happy about her result, the worst since 1949, the SPD accepted the sobering outcome and announced the end of the Grand Coalition. As if this was not bad enough, the whole situation was rendered far worse by the result of the right-ring populists of the AfD, who will enter parliament as the third strongest party. A tectonic shift in German politics.
You often hear the saying ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ in tough situations and it mostly functions as a motivational rallying cry intended to cover up deep-seated despair. But when the initial fog lifted and I had a closer look at the new political dynamics at play my mood brightened. The bad election result certainly is a severe crisis but there is also a very clear opportunity for the SPD to pick up the pieces and stage a comeback quite quickly. Here is why.
As I commented for CNN’s election live blog the fourth Merkel government will be her most unstable one; and it will be her last. The basic reason is that the only viable governing options left on the table are a so-called Jamaica coalition (with the Green party and the liberal FDP) or some sort of minority government. Neither of them has ever happened in Germany at federal level so this is generally new territory.
A minority government is inherently unstable but also in a Jamaica coalition Merkel will be caught between a rock and a hard place. The AfD had an unexpectedly good result in Bavaria, where the CSU (Merkel’s sister party in Bavaria) has lost substantial ground. The party chairman Horst Seehofer has already announced that he thinks that ‘leaving the right flank open’ was the main reason for this poor showing. Given that Bavarian elections are looming next year, it is predictable that he will try to pull the next German government to the right. And having a shrill extremist party like the AfD in the federal parliament will also push Merkel in the same direction.
Norway: Asbjørn Wahl, Campaign for the Welfare State
The centre-left failed to get rid of the so-called blue-blue government at Norway’s parliamentary elections on 11 September. The Labour Party was the main loser, while small parties on the centre-left advanced slightly. However, the parliamentary basis of the right-wing government has started to unravel and a deeper political crisis may be looming in the background, where social contradictions are mounting. Social democracy followed the general European trajectory downwards.
In the previous four-year parliamentary period, Norway was governed by a minority government formed by the Conservative Party and the so-called Progress Party (a right-wing populist party). Therefore the name blue-blue government. It was supported by two other parties—the Christian Democrats and the so-called Liberals (who in reality are neo-liberal, but with a touch of green). This backing was enshrined in a formal agreement, but to secure a parliamentary majority the government required support from only one of those two.
Norway has seen increasing political fragmentation over the last years. After the current elections, there are nine parties in Parliament. The four on the right are mentioned above, while the centre-left opposition includes the Labour Party, the Centre Party, the Socialist Left Party, the Green Party and the Red Party. As in many other countries, however, the entire political spectrum has moved to the right during the neo-liberal offensive from around 1980.
For the blue-blue government, two important things changed with the latest election. The Christian Democratic Party says that it is no longer willing to sign a contract of support to a government in which the right-wing Populist Party takes part; and the government is dependent on both formerly supportive parties to achieve a majority in Parliament. In other words, the Government’s political basis is much weaker than before, opening the possibility of its collapse. Since Norway cannot call an election in mid-term, this may lead to significant political turbulence or an open political crisis.
Many people expected a centre-left victory at this election, since the blue-blue government had carried out many unpopular policies. The discontent was particularly strong in the trade union movement. However, Labour’s election campaign proved to be disastrous under its new leader, Jonas Gahr Støre. One of the big 'mistakes' was a flirt with the so-called political centre (centre right) or the two political parties which had supported the blue-blue government and thereby backed attacks on employment laws and other economic and social gains for the working class. Furthermore, Labour was not even able to take a clear stand against the on-going and very unpopular commercialisation of core services in the Norwegian welfare state. Nor did the party come up with a credible policy against the undermining of labour market regulations, largely promoted by the increasingly authoritarian, neo-liberal European Union. This is a policy which in Norway is being implemented through the European Economic Area (EEA), an arrangement strongly backed by Labour.
The right-wing populist party, on the other hand, successfully set the agenda for much of the election campaign, first and foremost by playing the anti-immigration card and by focussing on identity policies. Labour was unable to respond with the only measures that can really confront such right-wing policies, namely a clear class policy. This did not necessarily happen because the party’s leadership is unwilling, but simply because class politics is severely lacking in today’s social democracy—deeply rooted as it still is in a social partnership ideology.
Duncan, Grant, Meyer, Henning and Wahl, Asbjørn, 'Elections', Evatt Journal, Vol. 16, No. 4, September 2017.<https://evatt.org.au/elections>