Latest Publications

Slovakia Presidential Election: The Fico Connundrum

Last week Jon Stewart got in trouble for mocking media commentators who might say things like “Slovakia’s president is a cow”.  This week, we have the news that its next president might be the current prime minister.  For those who know Slovakia’s constitutional system, this is perhaps even /less/ likely: why would why a politician at the top of his game–at the top of the game in the region–choose an ostensibly ceremonial presidency over his current position as prime-minister and party leader in a strong majority government.  Yet people close to Fico have for years been saying that he’d rather be president, so many of them, in fact, that it was hard to doubt the rumors had something behind them even while it was hard to imagine that Fico would actually do it.  As a result, however, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and have a few thoughts below about why Fico might do this and why we should care (ranked to some degree in order of ascending probability).

I. For Fico other concerns trump power (possible, though surprising).  There are at least two reasons Fico might be willing to sacrifice power by moving to the presidency

A. Blackmail (probability unclear, but I certainly hope not).  There are persistent but ill-supported rumors that some “they” (primarily corporate interests) have information that could destroy Fico’s career and that they use this leverage in ways that he feels are overly limiting and may make him willing to take a less powerful position just to escape the sword of Damocles.  I am not a fan of conspiracy theories but that may only be because the kind of work I do depends on more or less transparent political systems and this would suggest that Slovakia is not in that category.

B. Health issues (possible, oft repeated).  There are occasional rumors of panic attacks and during his first term Fico certainly was not a model of health (and had the kinds of health problems that often indicate incredibly high stress levels).  This term has seemed, at least from my distant view, to be a healther one for him.  During the previous term there were consistent claims that “Fico doesn’t like the day-to-day fighting of politics (even if he is good at it), and that the presidency offered him a position of relative ease that he would be willing to accept at the expense of his ability to shape Slovakia’s destiny.

II. Fico does not believe this entails a loss of power (entirely possible).  There are several possible reasons for this.

A.  (Rather unlikely) He plans to change the current formal institutions to increase the power of the presidency: Fico’s party does not have a constitutional majority, and so this seems unlikely at the moment, and if this has a negative effect on Fico’s party, then it may be unlikely for the forseeable future, but it is at least theoretically possible

B. (Somewhat more likely) He plans to use the current formal institutions in ways that increase the power of the presidency.  Fico may believe that he can play a central role even if he is no longer prime minister.  As Milos Zeman has demonstrated most recently in the Czech Republic, presidents can be powerful even in systems where they are formally weak.  There are at least two possible paths to this:

  1. (Relatively unlikely but possible) Fico is willing to accept the decline of his party or even its splintering (some say because he sees it as inevitable, though I find this doubtful) and knows that the president becomes more important in a more chaotic party environment.  This would mean sacrificing what has been Fico’s most remarkable accomplishment: creation of a party that has had less defection than any major party in Slovakia’s history, even as it has become the biggest party in Slovakia’s history.  That’s not something that goes into the record books but for those in the know, it’s the World Cup of politics.
  2. (Relatively more likely) Fico thinks he can retain control of his party even as president.  There is no precedent for this in Slovakia but there are limited precedents in other countries.  It would be a bit of a challenge but Fico may be able to do it where others could not.  It would become a job change rather than a fundamental disruption to the system.  The maintenance of power could be enhanced by the odd little provision of Slovakia’s constitution that gives Slovakia’s president, “the right to be present at meetings of the Government of the Slovak Republic, to chair them, and to demand reports from the Government or its members.” (Art. 102r)  

It’s also possible that there is some combination of these or others that I am not imagining.  If Fico imagines the presidency to be a slightly easier job without a huge decrease in power, then his choice is less inexplicable.  Of course he may be wrong on both counts, especially the latter.

III. Finally, what follow-on questions does this raise:

  1. Can Fico win.  Yes.  It is hard to see him losing to the current crop of candidates, though these things are always potentially surprising.
  2. What happens to Smer?  This is /the/ question.  If II.B.2. above is correct then maybe not much, but he will need to impose a new model in which even as president he can still act as the decisive voice among factions within Smer.  He will need a kind of Medvedev-like servility from his successors in party and government.  Perhaps that’s the case.

Whatever the case, Slovakia continues to fail to be boring.

Czech Election Update: Statistical Roundup

A few thoughts continuing from yesterday:

First, in a post-election debate (the first I’ve ever seen and kudos to CTV for arranging it (it helps that polls close at 2 in the afternoon), the moderator asked various parties for their opinions about many things including coalition partners.  Here’s a list of the relevant answers:

  • Usvit: Nobody.  Will support anybody who supports a referendum law but will not go into government
  • ANO: No coalition but might consider ‘toleration’.  (But not of KSCM-CSSD, and unlikely for ODS-TOP09.  Would prefer to go law-by-law)
  • TOP09: CSSD but they don’t want us.  Will probably go into opposition.
  • ODS: Would go with TOP09 and KDU-CSL but there are not enough votes. Party will go into opposition
  • CSSD: Anybody except ODS and TOP09.  Would not be in minority government depending on Communist support.
  • KDU-CSL: Not with KSCM.  CSSD would be ok, or CSSD-ANO or Center-Right coalition.
  • KSCM: Happy to support or join government with CSSD.

This is like a hard SAT logic question and I need to draw it out, but if these statements are predictive (they may mean them now but leaders often change their minds on this kind of thing), then I think there is no actual answer for a majority government.  The best would be a minority government of CSSD-KDUCSL tolerated by ANO, though I suppose there is the mathematical possibility of a center-right government supported by ANO and Usvit.

A few numbers worth presenting (graphs to follow).  The first relates to various measures for determining the size of the Czech political party system.  By Czech standards this is a huge political party system.  And it is very evenly distributed (no single pole).  In fact the gap between the largest and smallest parties in parliament is a remarkably low 13.5%.

The second set relates to volatility–change in this election compared to the previous one.  Again, change this time is huge: 39%.  As huge as last time.   And it is evenly distributed between losses/gains among existing parties and entrants/exits of existing parties (about 19% each).

Finally a table on the use of the preference vote.  The last election in the Czech Republic saw an enormous increase in the use of votes for individual legislators (40 of 200 deputies elected on that basis if memory serves, an increase from 6 in the previous period).  This time it is not quite as high but it is still very big: 27 out of 200.  It is the parties with larger and more robust organizations that saw the biggest changes: ODS (also suffering from member rebellion), KDU-CSL  and KSCM (not suffering from member rebellion) and CSSD (whose voters don’t seem especially pleased with some of its elite).  Below these were the new and organizationally weak parties:  ANO (one of whose members was elevated beause he shared the name of the party founder), and TOP09, and Usvit (with exactly zero)

Party Preference vote winners %
CSSD 7 14%
ANO2011 5 11%
KSCM 6 18%
TOP09 2 8%
ODS 4 25%
Usvit 0 0%
KDU-CSL 3 21%

Source: Czech Statistical Office

Czech Election Update: Not much left to the imagination

Almost all the votes are in and it’s a mess:

Party Share Seats Share of seats
CSSD 20.69 52 26.00%
ANO 18.7 48 24.00%
KSCM 15.1 34 17.00%
TOP 11.63 25 12.50%
ODS 7.59 15 7.50%
KDU-CSL 6.81 14 7.00%
Usvit 6.98 12 6.00%
Greens 3.1 0 0.00%
Pirates 2.64 0 0.00%
SSO 2.42 0 0.00%
Zemanites 1.53 0 0.00%
Others 2.81 0 0.00%
Total 100 200

100%

There is little way out of this.  With no parties above 25% of seats, there can be no coalitions with fewer than three parties.  This means that some of the big options are off the table, particularly CSSD-KSCM.  That was really the only chance for KSCM so despite their improvement by nearly 2%, they’re in just as bad a situation as before.  The problem is that all of the /other/ government options seem equally impossible at the moment. 

I’ve spent the last 2 hours listening to interviews with every party leader on CTV (and I mean every, since the station has made the very odd decision of bringing the leaders of all tiny parties into the studio and interviewing them, mainly, it seems, with the goal of taking them to task) for insisting that they should participate in the debate) and what we see from that is:

  • Usvit’s leader claims they won’t enter into a government with anybody but will support any government that supports their goal of unrestricted refendums
  • ANO’s leader claims they won’t enter into government with ODS or TOP09 or the Communists and says he can’t imagine supporting a Social Democratic government, 

Which pretty much rules out any majority government.

More soon.

Czech Election Update: With half the votes in:

Halfway there, decreasing room for change what do we see:

  • Seven parties in parliament, 2 new ones
  • No party with more than 25% (maybe 22%)
  • New parties with over 25%.
  • Parties founded since 2009 with 35%
  • The possibility, increasing over the last few minutes, of a situation in which the left does not have a majority and the CSSD-KSCM coalition (in whatever form) is not a possibility.
  • The sharp difference between the top 7 and the next set.  Of the parties hovering within 2% of 5%, three are well above 5% (Usvit, ODS, KDU-CSL) and all of the rest are far below 5% (Greens, SPOZ, Hlava Vzhuru and the Pirates). 

Here’s the graph:

Czech Election Update

With about 1/3 of the vote in, the Czech Election is shaping up to be rather shocking, notably in the degree to which new parties outperform original polls.  I’ve been following and recording results every 5 minutes and what I get is the following graph.  The key point is that these results are /extremely/ stable from minute to minute.  Things do tend to change in the last 20% as big precincts from urban areas come in, but my experience with Slovakia is that they don’t change more than a fraction (I haven’t done this minute-by-minute in the Czech Republic before)

CSSD looks stuck around 22, KSCM is on a steady decline.

Of course votes aren’t seats, but CT has [translated this (how, I’m not sure) into seats and says that the results produce a parliament with 55 for CSSD and 46 for KSCM.  But if KSCM’s current trend continues and if affects distribution of seats in the regions, as it might–and if TOP09 continues its rise, this could produce yet another 100 v. 100 parliament or even a slight majority for the non-CSSD-KSCM.  It may also produce the potential for a CSSD-ANO 2 party coalition but it is not clear whether that would be politically possible.  More soon.  (By the way, trends have continued while I was writing htis.  No reversals in TOP09 or KSCM)

Czech Parliamentary Election 2013: Polls are closed

Polls closed in the Czech Republic.  CzechTV is reporting on results despite the fact that there are 2% of precincts in.  Not worth commenting on.  In between those reports, they’re reporting that TOP09 has more Facebook friends than ANO (or any other party).  Now they’ve got Tomas Lebeda and Michal Klima so I’ll pay attention.  More soon.

Austrian Parliamentary Election, 29 September 2013

In button form the Austrian flag looks a lot like a “Do Not Enter” sign, but this election at least that did not apply for new parties (of course the thing I am most interested in these days).  There was some significant volatility in Austria this year. In raw party terms, two new parties entered and one existing party left parliament.  There was a minimum of 14.5% shift in votes and a 16% shift in seats (less than in the last election, for which my figures are 17% of votes and 27% of seats, but much more than Austria’s overall average during the post-WWII period.)  The shift was of a different character, furthermore:  whereas nearly all of Austria’s volatility has in the recent past been among parliamentary parties (Mainwaring’s intra-system volatility, Tucker and Powell’s Type A volatility), this year nearly half of the total volatility (6.2% of 14.5) was related to new entries and exits (extra-system or Type B).  In the last election the extra-system volatility was nearly as high (5.9%) but it was outweighed by intra-system volatility (10.9%); in elections before 2008, extra system volatility was barely discernable (averaging only 1.3%). 

Particularly notable here is the emergence of the non-traditionally-named Team Stronach whose website ad looks like a blockbuster trailer:

Team Stronach Video

But of course the only interactive website anybody /really/ needs is the one that lets you look at the results yourself, the Political Data Yearbook: Interactive (he said fully aware that this post is simply a plug for that website:

German Parliamentary Elections, 22 September 2013

It’s seems to be election season in Europe–Norway last week and Germany this week, with Austria, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic coming up in the next two months (the latter two of which are somewhat premature).   No time (or expertise) to offer in-depth analysis of the German elections here, but I wanted to post some screenshots and a link to the Political Data Yearbook interactive: http://www.politicaldatayearbook.com/Chart.aspx/14/Germany

SDP did not t do that badly, at least by some metrics, and although this is being hailed as a “commanding election victory” and a “triumph” (which for CDU-CSU’s raw numbers, it certainly is), it looks a bit less impressive when seen in the context of the collapse of the FDP. Party death and birth, as always, are the interesting questions for me.  FDP seems to be the kind of party that can survive a single very bad election, especially if people quickly tire of what is being done in its absence from parliament, as they likely will.  But some support may also bleed off to another destination.  By my rough calculations, there was about a 5% net increase in voting for parties outside the mainstream, most of it to Alternative for Germany (among existing small parties there was no clear increase).  They appear to be betting now on poor economic results and consequences from bailouts to set themselves up and reap the dissatisfaction (not my analysis–that comes straight from National Public Radio (not the finest source on European domestic politics, but good enough, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=224101219).  So an inconclusive death and a not-quite birth.  The same whirlpools that tear Eastern European party patterns asunder with every election are not as powerful here and they face much stronger opposition.  But the currents still seem to be present…

Norwegian Parliamentary Elections, 19 September 2013

In the past I have reserved this blog for coverage of elections in Slovakia and the Czech Republic and for other elections where we see the emergence of new parties (one of my favorite topics).  In that sense, this post is the beginning of something new.  For the last two years, I have had the great good fortune to be allowed by the European Consortium for Political Research and Wiley Blackwell to help develop an online database derived from the rich 20 year store of data contained in the Political Data Yearbook associated with the European Journal of Political Research.  It is the intensive work on this that, for the most part, accounts for my neglect of this blog in the last year or so, and it occurred to me that I could remedy this not only with some coverage of the upcoming Czech election, but also with some cross-posting between my two projects.  For the moment, I simply want to announce that we have used the database to post the results of today’s Norwegian election.  There’s nothing unusual about posting results, but what sets the PDYi apart is its ability to put those results in graphic context: how does this election compare with the last 6?  Which parties did better or worse and by what margins.  The PDY shows this and allows for a considerable amount of choice of variables and modes of display.  A few samples below.  And once Norway’s cabinet is announced, we can post that as well to show what ministries have been held by what parties (and ages and genders) over time.  So take a look at the screenshots below and head to http://www.politicaldatayearbook.com/Chart.aspx/63/Norway for Norway or to http://www.politicaldatayearbook.com for all available data.

 

A sample line chart showing changes in party support over time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 A sample stacked bar chart showing the overall success of the Norwegian right and center-right over time.

Agency and Structure, part II

What if.  For me this is a central way to start to understand agency and structure.  And there’s no better place to start than  “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick (who also wrote Blade Runner and a variety of other science fiction classics). In this book the Axis powers have won World War II and divided the former United States between a German protectorate on the East Coast, a Japanese protectorate on the West Coast and a quasi-independent zone in the middle. The following snippet is an excerpt from a discussion between a character named Wyndam-Matson (who covertly manufactures fake Civil War artifacts and other fake antique items of Americana for the Japanese market) and his mistress.  A text of the full novel is (for the moment) online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/202768/Dick-Philip-K-The-Man-in-the-High-Castle 

“…Getting up, Wyndam-Matson hurried into his study, returned at once with two cigarette lighters which he set down on the coffee table. ‘Look at these. Look the same, don’t they? Well, listen. One has historicity in it.’ He grinned at her. ‘Pick them up. Go ahead. One’s worth, oh, maybe forty or fifty thousand dollars on the collectors’ market.’

The girl gingerly picked up the two lighters and examined them.

‘Don’t you feel it?’ he kidded her. ‘The historicity?’

She said, ‘What is ‘historicity’?’

‘When a thing has history in it. Listen. One of those two Zippo lighters was in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pocket when he was assassinated. And one wasn’t. One has historicity, a hell of a lot of it. As much as any object ever had. And one has nothing. Can you feel it?’ He nudged her. ‘You can’t. You can’t tell which is which. There’s no ‘mystical plasmic presence,’ no ‘aura’ around it.’

‘Gee,’ the girl said, awed. ‘Is that really true? That he had one of those on him that day?’

‘Sure. And I know which it is. You see my point. It’s all a big racket; they’re playing it on themselves. I mean, a gun goes through a famous battle, like the Meuse-Argonne, and it’s the same as if it hadn’t, unless you know. It’s in here.’ He tapped his head. ‘In the mind, not the gun. I used to be a collector. In fact, that’s how I got into this business. I collected stamps. Early British colonies.’

The girl now stood at the window, her arms folded, gazing out at the lights of downtown San Francisco. ‘My mother and dad used to say we wouldn’t have lost the war if [Roosevelt] had lived,’ she said.

‘Okay,’ Wyndam-Matson went on. ‘Now suppose say last year the Canadian Government or somebody, anybody, finds the plates from which some old stamp was printed. And the ink. And a supply of – ‘

‘I don’t believe either of those two lighters belonged to Franklin Roosevelt,’ the girl said.

Wyndam-Matson giggled. ‘That’s my point! I’d have to prove it to you with some sort of document. A paper of authenticity. And so it’s all a fake, a mass delusion. The paper proves its worth, not the object itself!’

‘Show me the paper.’

‘Sure.’ Hopping up, he made his way back into the study. From the wall he took the Smithsonian Institution’s framed certificate; the paper and the lighter had cost him a fortune, but they were worth it – because they enabled him to prove that he was right, that the word ‘fake’ meant nothing really, since the word ‘authentic’ meant nothing really….

She held out her hand. He gave her the document.

‘So it is genuine,’ she said finally.

‘Yes. This one.’ He picked up the lighter with the long scratch across its side….

At the bookcase she knelt. ‘Did you read this?’ she asked, taking a book out.

Nearsightedly he peered. Lurid cover. Novel. ‘No,’ he said. ‘My wife got that. She reads a lot.’

‘You should read it.’

Still feeling disappointed, he grabbed the book, glanced at it. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. ‘Isn’t this one of those banned-in-Boston books?’ he said.

‘Banned through the United States. And in Europe, of course.’ She had gone to the hall door and stood there now, waiting.

‘I’ve heard of this Hawthorne Abendsen.’ But actually he had not. All he could recall about the book was – what? That it was very popular right now. Another fad. Another mass craze. He bent down and stuck it back in the shelf. ‘I don’t have time to read popular fiction. I’m too busy with work.’ Secretaries, he thought acidly, read that junk, at home alone in bed at night. It stimulates them. Instead of the real thing. Which they’re afraid of. But of course really crave.

‘One of those love stories,’ he said as he sullenly opened the hall door.

‘No,’ she said. ‘A story about war.’ As they walked down the hail to the elevator she said, ‘He says the same thing. As my mother and dad.’

‘Who? That Abbotson?’

‘That’s his theory. If Joe Zangara had missed [shooting Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Roosevelt] would have pulled America out of the Depression and armed it so that – ‘

She broke off. They had arrived at the elevator, and other people were waiting.

Later, as they drove through the nocturnal traffic in Wyndam-Matson’s Mercedes-Benz, she resumed.

‘Abendsen’s theory is that Roosevelt would have been a terribly strong President. As strong as Lincoln. He showed it in the year he was President, all those measures he [would have] introduced. The book is fiction. I mean, it’s in novel form. Roosevelt isn’t assassinated in Miami; he goes on and is reelected in 1936, so he’s President until 1940, until during the war. Don’t you see? He’s still President when Germany attacks England and France and Poland. And he sees all that. He makes America strong.  Garner was a really awful President. A lot of what happened was his fault. And then in 1940, instead of Bricker, a Democrat would have been elected – ‘… ‘His theory is that instead of an Isolationist like Bricker, in 1940 after Roosevelt, Rexford Tugwell would have been President.’  Her smooth face, reflecting the traffic lights, glowed with animation; her eyes had become large and she gestured as she talked. ‘And he would have been very active in continuing the Roosevelt anti-Nazi policies. So Germany would have been afraid to come to Japan’s help in 1941. They would not have honored their treaty. Do you see?’

Turning toward him on the seat, grabbing his shoulder with intensity, she said, ‘And so Germany and Japan would have lost the war!’

He laughed.

Staring at him, seeking something in his face – he could not tell what, and anyhow he had to watch the other cars – she said, ‘It’s not funny. It really would have been like that. The U.S. would have been able to lick the Japanese. And – ‘

‘How?’ he broke in.

‘He has it all laid out.’ For a moment she was silent. ‘It’s in fiction form,’ she said. ‘Naturally, it’s got a lot of fictional parts; I mean, it’s got to be entertaining or people wouldn’t read it. It has a human-interest theme; there’s these two young people, the boy is in the American Army. The girl – well, anyhow, President Tugwell is really smart. He understands what the Japs are going to do.’

Anxiously, she said, ‘It’s all right to talk about this; the Japs have let it be circulated in the Pacific. I read that a lot of them are reading it. It’s popular in the Home Islands. It’s stirred up a lot of talk.’

Wyndam-Matson said, ‘Listen. What does he say about Pearl Harbor?’

‘President Tugwell is so smart that he has all the ships out to sea. So the U.S. fleet isn’t destroyed.’ -

‘I see.’

‘So, there really isn’t any Pearl Harbor. They attack, but all they get is some little boats.’

‘It’s called ‘The Grasshopper something?’ ‘

‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. That’s a quote from the Bible.’

‘And Japan is defeated because there’s no Pearl Harbor. Listen. Japan would have won anyhow. Even if there had been no Pearl Harbor.’

‘The U.S. fleet – in his book – keeps them from taking the Philippines and Australia.’

‘They would have taken them anyhow; their fleet was superior. I know the Japanese fairly well, and it was their destiny to assume dominance in the Pacific.

The U.S. was on the decline ever since World War One. Every country on the Allied side was ruined in that war, morally and spiritually.’

With stubbornness, the girl said, ‘And if the Germans hadn’t taken Malta, Churchill would have stayed in power and guided England to victory.’

‘How? Where?’

‘In North Africa – Churchill would have defeated Rommel finally.’

Wyndam-Matson guffawed.

‘And once the British had defeated Rommel, they could move their whole army back and up through Turkey to join remnants of Russian armies and make a stand-in the book, they halt the Germans’ eastward advance into Russia at some town on the Volga. We never heard of this town, but it really exists because I looked it up in the atlas.’

‘What’s it called?’

‘Stalingrad. And the British turn the tide of the war, there. So, in the book, Rommel never would have linked up with those German armies that came down from Russia, von Paulus’ armies; remember? And the Germans never would have been able to go on into the Middle East and get the needed oil, or on into India like they did and link up with the Japanese. And – ‘

‘No strategy on earth could have defeated Erwin Rommel,’ Wyndam-Matson said.

‘And no events like this guy dreamed up, this town in Russia very heroically called ‘Stalingrad,’ no holding action could have done any more than delay the outcome; it couldn’t have changed it. Listen. I met Rommel. In New York, when I was there on business, in 1948.’ Actually, he had only seen the Military Governor of the U.S.A. At a reception in the White House, and at a distance. ‘What a man. What dignity and bearing. So I know what I’m talking about,’ he wound up.

‘It was a dreadful thing,’ Rita said, ‘when General Rommel was relieved of his post and that awful Lammers was appointed in his place. That’s when that murdering and those concentration camps really began.’

‘They existed when Rommel was Military Governor.’

‘But – ‘ She gestured. ‘It wasn’t official. Maybe those SS hoodlums did those acts then . . . but he wasn’t like the rest of them; he was more like those old Prussians. He was harsh – ‘

‘I’ll tell you who really did a good job in the U.S.A.,’ Wyndam-Matson said, ‘who you can look to for the economic revival. Albert Speer. Not Rommel and not the Organization Todt. Speer was the best appointment the Partei made in North America; he got all those businesses and corporations and factories – everything! – going again, and on an efficient basis. I wish we had that out here – as it is, we’ve got five outfits competing in each field, and at terrific waste. There’s nothing more foolish than economic competition.’

Rita said, ‘I couldn’t live in those work camps, those dorms they have back East. A girl friend of mine; she lived there. They censored her mail – she couldn’t tell me about it until she moved back out here again. They had to get up at six-thirty in the morning to band music.’

‘You’d get used to it. You’d have clean quarters, adequate food, recreation, medical care provided. What do you want? Egg in your beer?’

Through the cool night fog of San Francisco, his big German-made car moved quietly.