Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The new year in European elections

According to the calendar at the reference site Parties and Elections in Europe, following the Serbian election of last month, we've got a lull coming until March.

In March, Finland and Estonia, the twin Finnic nations (is that a legitimate adjective?), will head to the polls a couple of weeks apart. Estonia is first, and having been governed by various center-right coalitions since regaining independence, seems set to continue that trend. The country has grown extremely quickly and has gained a reputation for its innovation in e-government service provision. The interesting party to watch in the elections may be the recently founded Greens, who are apparently polling above 5 percent already with many undecided.

When Finland goes to the polls they figure to reelect the present coalition of the Finnish Center, the Social Democratic Party and the Swedish People's Party. Despite the occasional flare-up between the Center and Social Democrats, they are frequently in coalition together. In the polls, Center leader and current PM Matti Vanhanen is consistently well ahead of anyone else as a PM choice, but the SDP seems to be leading the party race, which could hand the post to SDP's Eero Heinäluoma. (SDP's Paavo Lipponen was prime minister 1995-2003). Either way, the clear public preference is a continuance of the coalition, which keeps the opposition conservative National Coalition party in the cold.

The other question to watch is whether Northern Ireland will hold an Assembly election in March. We should know soon whether or not this will go ahead. If so, expect the extremist parties (Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists) to win pluralities on either side.

The British Isles will then see an active month of May. Wales and Scotland will elect their regional assemblies. While Scotland's SNP is ahead in the polls, they would need to form a coalition to have a majority at Holyrood, which might be tough with almost all other parties being unionist. That said, the current Labour-Lib Dem government might not win a majority either. This creates a possibly interesting role for the Lib Dems as SNP coalition partners.

Also voting in May will be Iceland, which apparently has been having some controversy lately about some environmentally questionable development projects backed by the center-right government. Spanish autonomous communities--except for the big ones like the Basques, Catalonia and Galicia--then vote at the end of May.

June is the end of this modest run, with the French holding legislative elections and the two-round presidential ballot. It doesn't seem prudent to make predictions, but all signs right now point to a Royal-Sarkozy showdown being won by the rightist Sarkozy. But hey, Le Pen made it into the runoff five years ago, so who knows?

As far as the overall European picture goes, the main story will be the French, since nothing will really change in Finland or Estonia.

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