No politics without choices

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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From an article in The Economist from July 2015, on bailouts, monetary versus fiscal policy for stimulus, and the tendency of politicians to try to offload key decisions onto “non-partisan” technocrats:

Voters may also want inconsistent things: lower taxes, higher spending and a balanced budget at the same time. Politicians ought to make those tough choices. To the extent that they pass the buck to technocrats, or to international bodies making backroom deals, politicians lose control of their own destiny. Indeed, the feeling that their elected leaders are not in control may be one reason why voters in some countries are so angry, and are turning to parties outside the mainstream.

 


Previously from Arsenal For Democracy on this topic:

A world without politics would be bad
Drawbacks of Technocracy, Part 1: Europe’s Political Crisis
Drawbacks of Technocracy, Part 2: Blue-ribbon America
The EU’s ill-conceived TTIP technocracy strikes again
On technocracy in democracies

Burkina Faso completes 13 month transition

Previously from Arsenal For Democracy: Burkina Faso political transition coverage.

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Just over a year after protesters burned down Burkina Faso’s parliament and ejected the president of 27 years, a free presidential election has, at last, been held. It went off without much of a hitch in the first round (which will be the only round this time). Here’s how it played out in the end…

The basics (France24):

Provisional results from Sunday’s election showed [Former Prime Minister] Roch Marc Kaboré won 53.5 percent of the vote to defeat former Finance Minister Zéphirin Diabré, who scored 29.7 percent, and 12 other candidates, the electoral commission said. Turnout was about 60 percent.

 
The good (The Economist):

Early signs are that this will be the first peaceful transfer of power since independence.

The less good:

Yet others have pointed to the ubiquity of the CDP old guard at the top despite the ruling. Mr Kaboré was a close ally of Mr Compaoré until only nine months before the latter’s overthrow and was widely regarded as the continuity candidate, despite pledging to bring about “real change”. His main presidential rival, Zéphirin Diabré, also held several ministerial posts before defecting in 2010.

“The CDP is everywhere,” says one foreign election observer. The ranks of both Mr Kaboré’s new party, the Movement of People for Progress (MPP), and Mr Diabré’s Union for Progress and Change (UPC), contain many former CDP members, and the UPC, despite three years as the country’s official opposition, enjoyed the unofficial support of what remains of Mr Compaoré’s former party in the presidential vote.
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[T]here is little ideological difference between the two [leading parties in the legislature]. “All that’s changed is the name of the party,” says Daniel Eizenga, an expert on Burkinabé politics at the University of Florida.

 
I’m cautiously more optimistic than this, although it certainly poses risks. Why? Because as I argued last month when the voting kicked off, it’s sort of inevitable when there is single-party/one-man rule for decades that its successors will come from that background. Anyone who goes into public service ends up working for the regime at some point.

Burkina Faso presidential campaign kicks off after transition

Just over a year after a street uprising and military coup ousted the longtime regime of President Blaise Compaoré — and less than two months after a short-lived, violent coup attempt against the transitional government — Burkina Faso is heading to the polls for what it hopes will be its first free presidential election after decades of strongman and military rule. It has been a bumpy ride to get to this point.

Despite a ban on ruling party candidates, France24 reports that:

Seven of the 14 candidates played important roles in the fallen regime, without backing Compaore to the end.

 
Sort of inevitable when there is single-party/one-man rule for decades. Anyone who goes into public service ends up working for the regime at some point. And here they are:

Roch Marc Christian Kabore and Zephirin Diabre, considered the frontrunners, are both former government ministers.

Kabore worked with Compaore for 26 years, serving as prime minister and then speaker of the National Assembly. He also ran the CDP for more than a decade, but quit the party in disgrace 10 months before Compaore was ousted.

Diabre, an economist, long opted for an international career, but also served at home as minister of the economy and finance. He also joined the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with support from Compaore.

 
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Action works

I’ve worked for and volunteered for a lot of great candidates who have come up short — so it’s pretty fantastic to have a nearly clean sweep for once, as occurred this week.

I’m so proud of the work we did in a short span to fight for Newton’s future by electing an incredible new cohort of thoughtful activists to our Charter Commission and by re-electing a number of courageous incumbents who have taken stands in favor of varied and expanded housing opportunities in our city as it grows with the booming Boston region.

This election also really helped cure the residual burnout I had been feeling from some past elections and campaigns I’ve been involved with.

I also came away with a newfound resolve to combat the forces of apathy and malaise because I saw my efforts — stuffing envelopes to friends and parents of friends, knocking on hundreds of doors, etc. — directly translating into a successful campaign. I was always happy to head out there for all these candidates and talk to voters because I felt like every conversation was helping to build a new generation of democratic leadership and to bring the city into the future.

Here’s what I ask those people in the apathetic and cynical camp: Are you going to sit around telling everyone how nothing ever changes so there’s no point? Or are you going to stand up and see if you get enough people together to help change some things?

You and thousands of people like you can sit at home, separately, complaining and telling everyone who wants to try that they should give up too. Or you can get out there and help build the growing movement to turn things around. I know which I’d rather be doing.

Should blue cities in red states adopt mandatory voting?

A clever, low-cost, politically self-executing idea to promote rapid adoption of compulsory voting across the United States (if you think that’s a good idea, along the lines of jury duty), explained in The Atlantic by Nicholas Stephanopoulos of UChicago Law School:

To start, a blue city in a purple state — such as Miami, Florida; Columbus, Ohio; or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — would have to adopt compulsory voting for its own elections. Its elections would also have to be held on the first Tuesday in November [in an even year], allowing voters to cast ballots in municipal, state, and federal elections at the same time.
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At this point, redder jurisdictions would face enormous pressure to follow the blue city’s lead. Not doing so would award the Democrats an electoral bonanza: a surge in turnout in their urban stronghold unmatched by greater participation in suburbs and exurbs.
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Importantly, it’s easier for a single city to adopt compulsory voting than for myriad suburbs and exurbs to follow suit. This collective action problem is why compulsory voting probably wouldn’t stay at the local level for long. Red states, in particular, would find it in their interest to impose statewide voting mandates.

 
I cut out some of the details or proposed scenarios in this excerpt, just to get the gist down, so I recommend you check out the full piece.

I also think any mandatory voting system should, however, only be implemented alongside a None-of-The-Above option on all ballots. That way people can either pay a small fine for not voting or they can vote against everyone running. Either action would still be a positive expression of democratic will: support for/indifference toward the status quo or unhappiness with all options presented.

I’m sure a lot of people will have objections (in both ideological camps) to increasing turnout dramatically, especially at the local level. But fundamentally, if you’re unwilling to campaign toward everyone in democratic elections, that’s your problem and you need to get over that or lose. If you’re afraid of voters, it’s either because you’re wrong or because your side hasn’t put in the work necessary to persuade them to agree with your view.

And if mandatory voting strengthens party machines at the expense of individual campaigns, maybe individuals will actually take the time to sway the party or get in line with an easy to understand political agenda. What might that mean? We’ll stop having thousands of candidate-driven campaigns where voters pick someone they like over someone who will fight for them and their issues in office. Instead there would be candidates aligned with each platform, so you would know for sure what you would be getting when you vote.

Australia has had enforced compulsory voting (i.e. vote or pay a fine) since 1924, and they haven’t collapsed. Instead, they had decade after decade of turnout greater than 90%. Our democracy is only limping along by comparison.

AKP projected to win majority in 2nd Turkey election of 2015

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After an election campaign filled with violence and crackdowns on opposition media, it looks like we have a different result from the June election…

BBC – “Turkey election: Ruling AKP ‘heads for majority'”:

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) looks likely to claim a majority in a critical parliamentary election, results indicate.

With 95% of all votes counted, state-run Anadolu Agency said the party was on 49.5%, with the main opposition CHP on 25.3%.

The pro-Kurdish HDP and nationalist MHP appear likely to cross the 10% threshold needed to claim seats.
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Current projections indicate the ruling party will gain substantially more than the 276 seats needed to gain a majority.

However, projections show it will fall just short of the amount of seats needed to call a referendum on changing the constitution and increasing the powers of the president, AKP founder Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

 

Two Big Takeaways for the NDP on Canada’s 2015 election

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Editor’s Note: On October 19, 2015, Canadians voted all across their country to elect a new parliament. There were three major parties contesting the election everywhere and a couple minor parties. After the last federal parliamentary elections (in 2011), the Conservatives held a majority, the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) were the second-place party (heading the opposition for the first time), and the centrist Liberal Party finished third. At the start of this year’s election, the NDP had a large lead in the polls seemed poised to form a government for the first time in Canada’s history. As the campaign progressed, however, the NDP’s support collapsed and voters instead chose to elect a Liberal Party majority to parliament. This majority will be led by Justin Trudeau, the son of former longtime prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who led the party from 1968 to 1984. The Conservatives finished second. The NDP finished a distant third.

Below, guest contributor and NDP supporter Adam Chaikof presents the two major lessons he drew from the NDP’s unsuccessful campaign to lead the federal government for the first time in party history.

Lesson 1: Don’t treat balanced budgets like a sacred cow (especially during economic downturns).

It certainly goes without saying that one of the most common right-wing retorts to any suggestion of expanding the welfare state or investing in jobs or infrastructure is that such measures are too costly and will only increase the national debt and deficit.

Besides the obvious ideological reasons, the Right constantly employs this line of attack because voters easily understand it. After all, many voters reason, if we have to live within our means, why shouldn’t the government do the same?

Within this framing, beyond completely rejecting the Left’s core principles, left-wing parties can respond to these accusations in one of two ways: they can either try to convince the electorate that they’re actually better at balancing the budget than the Right, or they can argue that running a short-term deficit isn’t harmful and is necessary to stimulate the economy.

In other words, the Left can either try to win the debate on balanced budgets on the Right’s terms, or they can try to reset the debate’s terms altogether. During this most recent election in Canada, the NDP chose the former route, while the Liberals chose the latter.

The NDP chose this strategy for two reasons. First, NDP provincial governments actually have better fiscal records on average than both Liberal and Conservative ones despite spending more on economic and social programs.

Unfortunately, there is one notable – and very noticeable – exception to the NDP’s fiscal record: Bob Rae’s provincial government in Ontario from 1990 to 1995. Rae’s early 90s legacy still haunts the NDP in the electorally vital province of Ontario. This is the root cause of the second reason for the NDP’s strategy of campaigning on fiscal responsibility.

Rae’s record is still hotly debated – and he actually has long since defected from the NDP to the Liberals – but the most commonly accepted narrative is this: After leading the NDP to its first ever victory in Ontario in 1990, Rae unsuccessfully tried to spend Ontario’s way out of a recession and was then forced to implement austerity measures after exploding the province’s deficit.

Whether you accept this narrative or not, it’s undeniable that Rae’s poor economic record has been like a millstone around the NDP’s neck in Ontario at both the federal and provincial levels for the past 20 years. Ontario sends the most federal MPs to Parliament. In other words, eager to convince voters of its fiscal credibility and finally excise the ghost of the Rae Provincial Government, the NDP made maintaining a balanced budget one its main campaign planks.

This decision, however, had serious repercussions for the NDP. Many voters simply didn’t believe that the NDP’s proposals for raising revenue (e.g. raising corporate taxes by 2%, closing tax loopholes, etc.) would be enough to pay for its other spending promises. These included universal childcare and pharmacare, a national housing and transit strategy, reversing Harper’s cuts to health care and pensions, a national cap-and-trade system, and new investments in clean energy and manufacturing.

These proposals remained very popular, to be sure, but Canadians didn’t have much faith in the NDP being able to implement them properly because it seemed like they were trying to have it both ways: Spending a lot while balancing budgets. Read more