Today’s election for the state assembly of Lower Saxony, Germany, was considered too close to call as polls closed. It is regarded as one of Germany’s most important bellwethers, given the state’s large size and that its election is occurring several months before a federal election.
The state’s incumbent government mirrors the federal: a coalition of the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats. The latter party has had a string of bad results in state elections, and many pre-election polls suggested it might not pass the 5% threshold in today’s election. If it did not, the Christian Democrats (CDU) would not be able to govern except in a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).
However, exit polls suggest the FDP has reached 9%:
Its gain was attributed to the CDU governor of the state, half-Scot David McAllister, who tacitly encouraged his supporters to split their ballot to make sure the FDP would clear the 5-percent hurdle needed to remain in parliament — a precondition for him remaining in office.
Pre-election polls had put the CDU at 42% or higher, but all those threshold-surpassing list votes for the FDP had to come from somewhere. As a result, the CDU is down to 36%, according to the exit polls.
As for the SPD, its former federal chancellor (PM), Gerhard Schröder was shown on DW-TV campaigning directly on the promise of an SPD-Green coalition. He said (paraphrasing from the translation on DW English): voters know the SPD and Greens served them well when we governed before, because the SPD took care of jobs, while the Greens took care of the environment”.
The SPD is on 32% and the Greens on 13.5%. Thus the two opposing combines have almost the same combined vote totals. Both the Left and Pirates are below 5%.1
The campaign signs, photographed from the DW Journal (aired in the USA by Link TV), are interesting. Note how the CDU and SPD both emphasize their leaders, while the FDP and Greens explicitly call for list votes (Zweitstimme, or “second votes”) in the state’s two-vote mixed-member proportional system.
I had seen some polling that had the Left well above the threshold; maybe there was some tactical voting there, too, by soft Left voters who feared voting for the Left would only increase the odds of a grand coalition, given that SPD-Green-Left post-electoral cooperation would have been unlikely. [↩]
Nepal has been at a deadlock for months in its constitutional process. When yet another of numerous deadlines for a new comnstiution was missed on 27 May, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai dissolved the constituent assembly and set new elections for November. However, last week, the Election Commission advised that the elections can not be held, for reasons that include lack of political consensus. The opposition parties had protested the dissolution and announced a boycott of new elections.
Thus Nepal remains in a serious deadlock. Among the contentious issues is a classic one in the debates over federalism. While all the parties agreed early on to define Nepal as a “federal” republic, they disagree on a fundamental question of federal design for ethnically plural societies: should the sub-units be designed to be themselves multi-ethnic, or should their boundaries follow (as much as possible) the regional concentrations of various groups? The latter option, which seems to be what most experts on federalism advise, obviously requires delicate compromises on where new boundaries should be drawn and how many sub-units to have, which in turn shapes the number of minorities that can be local majorities in at least one unit.
Notwithstanding the breakdown–which may yet prove temporary–the assembly had made considerable progress. It apparently had reached a consensus on a semi-presidential system. In fact, Nepal may be one of the few countries ever to have had a full debate over all three major types of executive-legislative structure: parliamentary, presidential, and semi-presidential. Nepal has been previously parliamentary–largely because it was also a monarchy. In most constitutional-design processes that I know of, the debate is either between presidential and semi-presidential or between parliamentary and semi-presidential (if there is any such debate at all).
According to Jan Sharma (who also covers several other aspects of the process and its deadlock), the parties divided over the executive-legislative type. The old parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist initially wanted a Westminster parliamentary system, while the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist favored a strong directly elected presidency (presumably a presidential system). Guess who must be confident about having a popular individual leader who could win a presidential election, and who isn’t?
From various subsequent news items I saw back in May (and which I don’t have immediate access to now) suggest that they had compromised on a semi-presidential system, and evidently of the premier-presidential sub-type.
Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, will go to the polls in May, following the parliamentary defeat earlier this month of its minority coalition government.
The coalition consists of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, but these two parties emerged from the July, 2010, election two seats short of a majority.
Minority governments are essentially unheard of in Germany. I do not know how this one survived initially, whether with tacit outside support from the Left Party or with tactical abstentions from the Christian Democrats (CDU) and/or Free Democrats (FDP). However, at this point, polls have been showing that the SPD and Greens would win a clear majority in new elections. So I assume this defeat was strategically planned by the government–sending up a budget the combined opposition would “have to” defeat.
As in many federal systems with staggered national and regional elections, in Germany state elections are often seen as bellwethers for the next national election. If that is the case, then not only the expected NRW result, but also recent elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Baden-Wurttemberg, and Rhineland-Palatinate, give the CDU and FDP reason to be very, very worried.
Some scenes of Dusseldorf, NRW, from my travel collection (June, 2010) follow. Dusseldorf, the city of Altbier!
The run of bad election results for the party of German federal leader, Angela Merkel, continues. Her Christian Democrats (CDU) lost over five percentage points in the party vote, relative to the 2006 election, in state parliamentary elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The Free Democrats (FDP), the CDU’s partner in the federal coalition, suffered an even more dramatic fall. With only 2.7%, down from 9.6%, they will have no seats now in the state’s parliament.
The big winners were the Social Democrats (SPD), with 35.7% (up from 30.2%) and the Greens, with 8.4% (3.4). The Left Party gained slightly (18.4, from 16.8). The neo-nazi NPD dropped a bit (6.0, from 7.3) but remains in the parliament.
The combined seat total of the SPD (28) and Greens (6) remains short of a majority in the 71-seat assembly. Thus a coalition of the SPD and Greens would be a minority government, and would need a working arrangement with the Left (or the CDU). The current government is a grand coalition of the SPD and CDU; Spiegel states that this arrangement is likely to continue. Maybe, but after the last election, those two parties were almost tied in seats (23 SPD, 22 CDU). With such a big swing against the CDU and to the SPD, one wonders whether the rank-and-file of either party will want to remain in a grand coalition.
(A sidebar to the last-linked item says that there is no 5% threshold at the local level, and it appears that the NPD will be represented now in “virtually all” the state’s district councils.)
The world’s longest-ruling democratically elected Communist parties have been voted out of office as results of four key Indian state legislative elections were released today.
As has been widely anticipated since at least the dust-up in the central government over the Left Front’s resistance to the Indo-US nuclear agreement, the West Bengal result shows a crushing defeat in the Left’s most important stronghold. In the 2009 national Lok Sabha (parliament) elections, an alliance headed by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) dominated the state. In 2009, as well as in these state elections, the TMC was in a pre-electoral alliance with the federal ruling party, the Indian National Congress (INC). TMC’s leader, Mamata Banerjee, is the federal Railways Minister in the coalition cabinet of the INC-led United Progressive Alliance.
The TMC-INC alliance has won 226 seats out of 294. The TMC itself won 184. The various parties of the Left Front, which has ruled the state for 34 years, will have only 60.
In Kerala, another long-time Left stronghold in the southwest, the result was close between the United Democratic Front (UDF), led by the INC, and the Left Democratic Front. Projections of seats kept swinging between the two fronts, but in the end the UDF emerged with 72 seats out of 140. Of these 72, the INC will have 38 and the Kerala Muslim League 20. (Several smaller pre-poll allies split the rest.) The Communist Party of India (Marxist)1 will have the most seats in the Kerala assembly of any single party, 45, but it does not matter, given that the pre-poll UDF won a majority.
Another southern state, Tamil Nadu, saw a setback for Congress, as one of the main Dravidian parties displaced the other. The AIADMK and its pre-poll allies (which include left parties as junior partners) defeated the Congress-allied DMK. The outgoing government was a DMK minority cabinet, backed by the INC.
In Assam, in the northeast, Congress scored a big reelection victory. It will have 76 of the assembly’s 126 seats. The opposition regional party, Asam Gana Parishad (AGP), and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were unable to conclude a pre-poll alliance to challenge the INC.
The run-up to the elections saw some interesting brinksmanship between the INC and its allies. The AIADMK and, especially the TMC, held out for many more districts than the INC was initially willing to concede. Because these are pre-electoral alliances to contest single-seat districts (decided by FPTP), the key to how many seats each alliance partner wins lies in how many winnable districts it gets to contest. The TMC forced the INC to back down, leaving the latter with far fewer seats than it originally demanded as a bottom line, and thereby underscoring how dependent the INC is on its state-based partners. In the dealing, however, the TMC had to trade off an attempt to expand its base of operation further into neighboring Assam.2
The Congress Party seems to be steadily rebuilding its strength in recent years, but it remains reliant on regional parties to do so in some key states. Its main rival for power nationally, the BJP, was scarcely a factor in these states (other than contributing to vote-splitting in Assam).
All eyes have already shifted to the next huge prize, Uttar Pradesh, which has state elections next year. Neither Congress nor the BJP currently has much a foothold there, and the main competition is between two state parties that have declined to join national alliances. The intrigue is already getting intense, with protests and counter-protests over state government land acquisition for development projects,3 and Rahul Gandhi’s midnight ride.
Yes, that is it’s name; the parenthetical term being needed to distinguish it from various other Communist Parties in India that perhaps are not Marxist enough, in some folks’ eyes. [↩]
Like many an Indian regional party, TMC harbors aspirations of becoming a “national” party; in fact, its full name is the All-India Trinamool Congress. Similarly, the “AI” in the AIADMK name in Tamil Nadu also means “All India.” [↩]
Similar conflicts fueled the TNC-INC opposition to the Left in West Bengal [↩]
It’s official, the Green Party has “won” the Baden-Wurttemberg state assembly election today. It won 24.2%, nearly doubling its showing of 12.5% in the last election. Via DW:
“It’s a dream come true… we could never have dreamed of a result like this a few days ago,” said Franz Untersteller, a Green party spokesman.
To say the Greens “won” with less than 25% is, of course, in need of some qualification, given that this does not even make them the plurality party. That would be the Christian Democrats (CDU), on 39%. However, the Greens edged out the Social Democrats (23.1%), and the “Green-Red” combo thus has a majority. That means the Greens will have the premiership in the new coalition government.
The CDU’s partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), just held on to their place in the assembly, with 5.3%.
In neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, the FDP fell below the 5% threshold and thus will not be in the assembly. There the incumbent SPD lots its majority (36.1), but the Greens won 15.1% (up by 10.5 points), making a Red-Green coalition the most likely result there.
As noted previously, the Green surge owes much to the Fukushima effect.
The state assembly election this Sunday in Baden-Württemberg has a decent chance to result in Germany’s first state premier from the Green Party.
The state has been led by the Christian Democrats, the party of German federal Chancellor (PM) Angela Merkel, for nearly 60 years. The party has slid in polls nationally recently, down to around 33%, according to Spiegel. Among the issues contributing to the slide, in addition to a plagiarist ex-minister, is the government’s stance on nuclear power. It recently announced a temporary shutdown of seven nuclear reactors in response to the Fukushima crisis. In Baden-Württemberg, the political problem for premier Stefan Mappus and his CDU is even especially acute:
Mappus’ problems, however, go beyond his party’s sinking numbers nationwide. The Baden-Württemberg governor, after all, has long been a firm, even boisterous, supporter of nuclear energy. Last year, as Merkel’s government was preparing legislation to extend the lifespans of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors, Mappus even went so far as to hint that Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen — a CDU party ally — should resign due to his reluctance to support the extension.
The combined Green-Social Democratic vote could be larger than that of the CDU and its partner the Free Democratic party.
Current polls show that even though the CDU can still count on 38 percent support on Sunday, it may not be enough to keep Mappus in power. His current coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), stand at 6 percent in the polls. The Social Democrats and the Green Party, for their part, add up to 47 percent support — three points ahead of the CDU-FDP alliance — with recent Green gains suggesting it may be possible that the party could claim the state’s governorship.* It that happens, it would be a first for the Greens in Germany.
The Greens and Social Democrats (SPD) are close in the poll, at 25% and 22%, respectively; the Green gain is 5 points in the past week (The Local).
The Green Party’s strength is not only due to Fukushima, as it has been gaining for months due to its leading of the opposition to a controversial redevelopment project in Stuttgart, the state capital.
If the Greens pass the SPD and the SPD-Green combo is greater than the CDU-FDP combo, the Green leader could become premier. That’s two “ifs” and both races are close. This will be one to watch.
Aside from some municipalities, is there a government anywhere that has been led by a Green chief executive?
* Contrary to Spiegel, I prefer “premiership,” as that captures the fact that the state executive emerges from and is dependent upon the assembly majority.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s largest state, it looks like the next government will be a SPD-Green minority administration. The incumbent CDU-FDP coalition failed to retain its majority in recent elections, and the outgoing premier, Juergen Ruettgers, announced on Saturday that he would not stand for re-election as premier in the new assembly.
The SPD and Greens are two seats short of a majority, and will rely on the backing or abstention of the Left Party to sustain their cabinet.
Other outcomes were possible, and maybe even seemed more likely following the election: a CDU-SPD grand coalition, or a CDU-FDP-Green coalition, for example. But negotiations for such alternatives led nowhere.
Questions I hope someone will know the answer to:
1. How common are minority cabinets in German states?
2. Is this the first time outside the former GDR that a government has needed at least tacit backing from the Left?
Because states’ Bundesrat delegations are appointed by state governments, this will mean the federal coalition of the CDU/CSU and FDP will lose its majority in the second chamber.
I can’t claim to know who will win the special election for the US Senate seat from Massachusetts formerly held by Ted Kennedy. However, I do know one thing: It is yet another item in the “charge sheet” against the American way of politics and policy-making that a government that, along with its legislative majorities, was endorsed by substantial majorities of the electorate could have its entire agenda pivot on the outcome of a special election for one seat in one house in one state just one year into its tenure.
It is worth noting that the current government is the first government in the USA to have popular majorities backing both it and its legislative majorities in quite some time (since 1976, I believe; no Republican Senate majority in at least five decades has been backed by a popular majority and Clinton never won over 50% of the vote). But that does not matter. One might think that elections should matter–that is, national elections–and that governments endorsed by majorities might be generally able to implement their programs. Well, at least that is what one might think if one were a committed small-d democrat.
That the Democratic Party is in such a fight for this seat–in Massachusetts!–is also a new item for the charge sheet against the party. How can it have missed the boat so badly with its policy agenda that it is struggling to hold a Senate seat in a state so reliably Democratic, till now, in Senate elections?
One item from the Globe and Mail suggests one reason why Republican Scott Brown is putting up such a challenge: He says that health care is a state issue. That is a defensible position–personally, I think it’s wrong, but it is defensible. The interesting twist is that various elements of the Democratic proposals resemble the healthcare policy put in place already in Massachusetts. That healthcare program was signed by a Republican governor (Mitt Romney, and that fact won’t help him with the national Republican primary electorate in 2012). So, in a sense, at least some swing voters in Massachusetts may be voting to protect what they already have from feared federal intrusion by a national policy. Ironically, that is how the Senate is supposed to work: as a forum for protecting state interests. Here we have a state that is seriously under-represented in terms of population per Senator, given that severe malapportionment of the institution. But in this one election, it will be seriously over-represented, as a relative few swing voters in one state essentially decide the fate of the governing party program, by bringing its majority below 60% in one house.
On the contest itself, Republicans chose for themselves about as good a candidate as they could have: Brown is very liberal for a Republican–even in the context of Massachusetts, where Republicans are in general about as liberal as they can be and still be Republicans. (Both points are made by Boris Shor, in a graph posted by Andrew Gelman at 538.)
On the other hand, evidently Democrat Martha Coakley is no exactly an exciting candidate, or one in touch with her voters–she evidently does not even know that Curt Schiling is something of a Massachusetts legend, suggesting he was a Yankees fan. If Coakley loses, there will be debate about how much candidate effects mattered and how much it really was a referendum on Obama’s policies, especially healthcare. But there is little doubting the impact. And, whatever one’s opinion of the policies or the current government, that just shows what an odd way we run this system known as American democracy.
India is the classic case of what Alfred Stepan refers to as a “holding together” federation. In contrast to “coming together” federations, where (more or less) sovereign states band together to create a common central government to which the states surrender some of their sovereignty,* in a holding-together federation, a larger polity is subdivided into various sub-units that enjoy sovereignty over certain policy areas. Typically holding together is a strategy used to cope with ethnic divisions, by giving groups that are minorities in the larger polity their own states in which they constitute a majority.
India is a classic holding together federation because many of its current states did not exist when the country became independent in 1947, but rather have been created over the years in efforts to resolve various conflicts.
Such is the setting in which Telangana is about to be created, from within the existing borders of the very large southern state of Andhra Pradesh. In fact, the current capital of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, is to be included in the new state. As the Hindustan Times reports:
After nearly four decades of struggle for a separate state, the Telangana issue has reached a flashpoint. Under the leadership of K Chandrasekhar Rao, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has pressurised the Centre government to set a deadline for the formation of a separate Telangana state.
The TRS is a regional party that is currently a component of the National Democratic Alliance, in which the large national party is the BJP. This alliance has been in opposition since the 2004 election and lost rather badly in federal elections earlier this year. However, the TRS was formerly part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (led by the Congress Party, and currently in power).
In 2004, the Congress party and the TRS had an electoral alliance in the Telangana region with the promise of a separate Telangana state. TRS joined the coalition government in 2004 and was successful in making a separate Telangana state a part of the common minimum program (CMP). In September 2006, TRS withdrew support from the Congress-led coalition government.
Protests and violence finally have led the UPA to accept the demands to divide Andhra Pradesh, a state that has existed since 1956.
The Hindustan Times story has some interesting detail on the history of the region. Another article discusses the political crisis that has now erupted in Andhra: 92 state legislators and several MPs are resigning in protest.
* The classic coming-together federation is, of course, the USA. Switzerland is another case. One of Stepan’s key points is that most federations are “holding together,” and thus theories of federalism based on the assumption that the units, rather than the central polity, are the original source of sovereignty (such as the classic work of William Riker) are inadequate to explain most federal countries in the world today, including newly federalizing cases such as Belgium, Iraq, and perhaps now Bolivia.
It is to have a CDU+FDP government too (unless a Left Party challenge of the state’s seat allocation rules leads to a ruling correcting the situation that black-yellow have a majority of seats with a minority of the vote).
The legislature is renamed the Plurinational Legislative Assembly and, presumably to put that into action, the first chamber electoral system will be required to have seats set aside for indigenous representation. However, Miguel notes that this is not very significant in practice:
The indigenous seats must come from the 130 total, are limited to “rural” districts [...Moreover, ] Rural SMDs were already de facto “indigenous” seats; now that is merely recognized officially.
The MMP system, in which about half the seats are elected from single-seat districts, remains. This is in spite of earlier proposals from the ruling MAS to move to a system of exclusively single-seat districts.
MAS also previously advocated abolishing the Senate. Instead, it will be retained, but with a non-trivial change: the number of seats per department will go from 3 to 4. Currently, these are elected by that Latin American oddity that I refer to as “limited slate” or “limited nominations.” A party may nominate two candidates on a closed list, and the party with the plurality elects both, while the first runner-up elects its first-ranked candidate. (Similar systems are used in the second chambers of Argentina and Mexico.) Miguel notes that the electoral system for the new 4-seat districts is undetermined, but is supposed to be “proportional.”
Bolivia’s Senate is really an anomaly: it just might be the most malapportioned chamber in any unitary state. It is not surprising that, politically, it could not be abolished or even that its malapportionment could not be reduced, given conflicts over regional autonomy. Still, as Miguel says, this reform actually makes the small departments more over-represented. The move to 4-seat districts, however, should counteract that to some degree, as far as partisan representation is concerned, as long as the formula actually is PR and not some continued form of list plurality. Under PR, the second and even third largest party in a department would be better represented than is now the case, which potentially nationalizes the highly regionalized party system a bit more.
As for whether Bolivia retains a unitary state, I believe so. An earlier post by Miguel refers to a new “federacy,” a term I understand as within the confines of a unitary state, but with special autonomy status for one or more of several sub-jurisdictions of the state.
In short, these changes seem like small improvements. But will they help solve the country’s deep political conflicts?
OK, political science class, raise your hand if you knew that governors have floor privileges in the US Senate.
According to a LA Times article this morning, they do, and one of the scenarios the Democrats dread is that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevhich shows up to escort his choice for Senator, Roland Burris, onto the floor. Just because he can.
All in all, a pretty good record for the Indian National Congress, the party of incumbent federal Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The only states the INC did not win were those that voted before the Mumbai attacks. And, as I note below, the INC gained on the BJP even in the two pre-attack states that the BJP held, suggesting there were national pro-INC factors at work independent of both the attacks and any particular state issues. Although these states are not necessarily bellwethers, overall, these results have to be good news for the INC as federal elections approach within the next few months.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) attempt to build a national campaign around the issues of terrorism, inflation, and a deepening agriculture crisis as a prelude to the Lok Sabha elections worked, at best, only partially. Local issues of governance won the day.
The BJP was pushing the “soft on terrorism” line even before the attacks in Mumbai.
The election was fought very much on BJP turf, as indicated by the party being the incumbent in three of the states, and how many of the federal parliamentary seats in these states are currently held by that party:
Delhi, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh elect 72 of 542 members of the Lok Sabha, while Mizoram elects one. BJP has 57 and Congress 15 MPs in the current Lok Sabha from these states.
Federal elections must be completed no later than May.
So, when will the next general elections take place? There is nothing that suggests that the Congress would advance the polls. Congress hopes inflation will dip sharply from March 2009 onwards and by April-May the party will be in comfortable position. The party also expects to deliver on the issue of security by then, with a new home minister already in place.
Given the use of FPTP, it is always a good idea to look closely at more than just who won (i.e. who may have won a manufactured majority of seats). For instance, in the Rajastan election of 2003, the BJP majority (110 of 200 seats) resulted from 39.2% of the vote (against 35.6% for the INC). In Madhya Pradesh in 2003 the BJP’s 173 (of 230) seats came on 42.5% of the votes (INC, 31.6%). Chhattisgarh in 2003 had a really close election, in votes: the BJP won 50 of 90 seats despite a votes win of 39.3% to 36.7%. Then there’s Mizoram in 2003: the Mizoram National Front won its 21 (of 40) seats on 31.7% of the votes, against 30.1% for the INC.3 Only in Delhi did the winner in 2003 come close to an “earned” majority, with the INC winning 47 (of 68) seats on 48.1% of the vote.4
The 2008 results are available at the Election Commission of India website, but I do not see state-level aggregation of vote totals. Some of the INC wins over the BJP were substantial, however (in seats): 96 – 78 in Rajasthan, 42 – 23 in Delhi, and 32 – 0 in Mizoram (where the BJP barely contests; the incumbent National Front managed only 3 seats). In Chhattisgarh, the BJP won 37 seats to 31 for the INC, which is quite a lot closer than the 50-37 last time (in an assembly of 90 seats, now cut to 70). In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 126 seats (a loss of 47), but the INC remains far behind (63, a gain of 25 in an assembly cut in size from 230 to 201).
Note that the Rajasthan result this time around is not a majority, with the INC having 96 of 200 seats (+40 on 2003). The BJP won 78 seats (-32). The INC has a potential ally to support a minority government in the Bahujan Samaj Party (6 seats, a gain of 4). As Adam notes below, it is even more likely to make deals with independent members (many of whom sought the INC nomination, were denied, but won anyway.)
1. Many elections in India take place in stages, with some districts voting on different days from others; always FPTP.
2. Party abbreviations: INC = Indian National Congress, the main component of the governing United Progressive Alliance at the federal level; BJP = Bharatiya Janata Party, the main component of the federal opposition bloc, the National Democratic Alliance; MNF = Mizoram National Front.
3. And 16.2% for the Mizoram People’s Congress and 14.7% for the Zoram Nationalist Party.
4. The BJP had 20 seats on 35.2%. Here my source is a PDF from the Election Commission of India, as Adam Carr does not have a summary on his site.
All that Belgium wants for Christmas is a government â€” and thousands of people marched through Brussels yesterday to demand that politicians should avoid the break-up of their country.
Yes, Belgium held elections for parliament in June. And, no, there still is not a new coalition in place to govern the country.
The demonstration referred to by the Times is, on one level, a great show of national unity. The Times reports that the demonstrators were:
bedecked with the black, gold and red of the national flag, with not a party affiliation in sight.
In a sign of the division between the two main language communities, there were noticeably more French-speaking marchers than those from the Flemish north, where support for national unity is more ambivalent.
The “Czechoslovakia option” is being discussed in the newspapers,1 and as the VOA reports, the impasse over coalition formation is indeed related to classic issues of federalism: how to divide the national wealth and the extent to which citizens of a richer region perceive themselves to be subsidizing the less wealthy citizens in other units of the federation.
Huge obstacles remain and neither side is budging. Flemish parties insist that regional governments must have more autonomy. With 60 percent of the population, Flanders generates 70 percent of Belgium’s Gross Domestic Product. The Dutch speaking area wants to retain more power and tax money, rather than sending it south.
Wallonia’s politicians are resisting this, partly because they see it as the first step toward dividing the country, which Walloons oppose in large numbers.
Then what to do with Brussels, which is mixed linguistically, unlike Prague, the former Czecho-Slovak capital. Brussels and Prague. Two of my favorite cities, and no, that is not only for the beer. But the beer is a major consideration, for sure. [↩]
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4