Archive | June, 2006

>My life as Ross Perot

> And keeping up the populist theme, I missed the football once again to play Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign in the ever popular election simulation game President Forever. I had assumed that Perot was a rather way out populist but as the game and a little research make clear, the eccentric Texan billionaire had a moderately conservative – economically and socially liberal (pro-choice, anti-deficit) programme, which also favoured targeted federal spending increases on education and regeneration. He was economically nationalist –

indeed isolationist – favouring a restrictive stance on immigration, protection of domestic industry and an avoidance of foreign entanglement in Bosnia and Somail – and , of course, in favour of populist (perhaps in a US context I should write Populist) measures such as party funding reform, electronic town hall meetings etc. Nothing that wouldn’t look too out of place in a Demos pamphlet, it seems….

Using Perot’s financial clout and a bit of background knowledge gleaned from the excellent US Election Atlas site – I focused on a few states, hoping to win a few electoral college votes (which the real Perot never managed) and complicate the election of either George H W or Bill Clinton by denying either a majority in the electoral college – then I think it goes to the US Senate.

In the end, I managed win seven states (top left image), those where the real Perot polled best in 1992, Maine, Alaska and five states in the North West. I missed out on Montana and Kansas, but won 30 electoral colleague votes. I didn’t, however, manage to better the 19% of the national vote that the real Ross P got.Meanwhile a fairly even contest the two frontrunners turned into a Bush landslide, although both main protagonists ignored the Big Mo of my Perot campaign, which t focused resources on building up a campaign machine deploying by a big advertising budget in its populist heartland. American Election Atlas (map to the right) interestingly shows that these same states (Alaska and Maine excepted) were also the core of support for Populist Party in 1892.

A subsequent game (bottom left image) saw Perot achieve even greater success, taking 10 states, 21% of the national vote and 74 Electoral College votes. Here, in exaggerated the result echoed the real outcome in 1992. The big loser this time was George HW Bush, who with a mere 34% of the national poll was crushed by Clinton (some eight points ahead) taking only 134 Electoral College votes. Perot’s big prize this time was Texas, Bush’s home state, which the Perot campaign turned to late on in having secured commanding leads in the ‘populist states of the North West and won by 1% with 36% of the vote.

I think Ross P might with good luck and great tactics perhaps also have a chance at Florida and California, suggesting he could take a maximum of perhaps 170 Electoral College votes. Still way off the 270 needed to get to the White House.Still, I was very proud of myself, although true afficionandos on the game’s web forum claim Perot can actually win…

>Slovakia’s new government: direction unknown

While the deadlocked Czech political situation means that – three weeks after the election – MPs are still struggling to elect chairs of parliamentary committees, let alone a government, the Slovak elections in mid-June produced almost an embarrassment of viable majority coalitions. Commentators generally identified four possibilities

1) a coalition of the winning social democratic Smer party of Robert Fico with some members of the outgoing centre-right coalition – perhaps its more ‘social market’ inclined members, such as the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) orthe Hungarian minority party (which sits with the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament).

2) a renewed right-wing coalition taking on board Vladimír Mečiar’s much diminished Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) – still led by Mečiar from the seclusion of a large villa – accepting HZDS’s claims to have transformed into a European style People’s Part (of sorts)

3) a ‘national’ coalition of far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and Christian Democrats, historically associated with attempts to promote Slovak autonomy and independence, but wary of SNS’s extremism and unpredictable leade, Jan Slota.

4) A populist-nationalist coalition of Smer, SNS and HZDS harking backing to the Mečiar led alliance that made Slovakia a case study of illiberal democracy in 1990s and pariah for the West, except that HZDS would now be the tail that gets wagged, rather than the dog.

Most analysts – noting Fico’s embrace of the Social Democratic label and his party’s membership of the Party of European Socialist (gained not without difficulty) – expected him – despite still populist rhetoric opposing neo-liberal reforms – to go for option 1. Then he might indeed live up to his self-image of being a Slovak Tony Blair, toning down market reform only slightly but reaping the popularity that market driven prosperity would eventually deliver

Alas, the Christian Democrats have refused to play ball either by teaming up Fico; or by holding their nose and embracing a born again Mečiar, or – more understandably – by joining with Fico and Slota. Fed up of Christian Democrat equivocation and indecision, Fico has thus gone for option 4 – to the consternation of media, markets and commentators, who hoped it was just a negotiating ploy. The Party of European Socialists are unnerved to say the least, fearing a re-run of the Mečiar years or, perhaps worse, a kind of ‘Mečiarism lite’

The new PM, of course, promises that Slovakia will stay committed to NATO and EU standards and that the government not do anything too crazy, just ease the pain of the Dzurinda years. To cover his embarrassment Mečiar and Slota have at least agreed to stay out of the cabinet, although it will be interesting to see how the Young Gun Fico copes with these two old pros lurking Haider style outside the cabinet. Both (unlike him) have government experience.

In teaming up with radical populists and nationalists rather cobbling together an agreement with more liberal forces – despite their party’s Catholic social conservatism the Slovak Christian Democrat ministers were after all the originators of the flat tax -Fico seems to have gone for the Polish, rather than the Czech model. After its victory in the 2005 elections, Poland’s conservative-nationalist Law and Justice Party too teamed up with radical populists and Catholic-nationalists.

Meanwhile in the Czech Republic the equivalent of such radicals – the Communists – are still beyond the pale even for Social Democrats as far as coalition making is concerned. Hence the latest round of carefully crafted left-right ‘toleration’ in Prague.

This is rather ironic given that the Czech Communists are an altogether more serious, predictable and – relatively speaking – moderate force than the League of Polish Families, Self-Defence, SNS or indeed the new look HZDS. Indeed, apart from helping pass the Registered Partnership Law this year, their other unlikely service to Czech democracy has arguably been to soak up more elderly hardline populist and national voters that might have invigorated the far right, who crashed out of parliament in 1998 and once again flopped in elections this year.

Still perhaps Fico is a wiser man than he appears. There is no Mondeo Man or Worcester Woman in Middle Slovakia, only a large number of people who have lost out and see themselves as likely to lose out still more to a small, metropolitan middle class, that lacks the social and political clout of its UK, US or – dare I say it – even Czech equivalent

The pattern of both Polish and Slovak politics is more fluid with a much more marked rural-populist vs. urban liberal dimension, correlating with economic prosperity and poverty, than in Czechia will – as Cas Mudde suggests in an interesting but underdeveloped working paper (‘EU Accession and a New Populist Centre-Periphery Cleavage in Central and Eastern Europe, Harvard University Center for European Studies, Central and East European Working Paper No. 62
– be accentuated post-accession, with a still more distant centre of power and no great project with which to justify belt tightening.

>Czech elections – was it the expatriate vote wot lost it for the left?

> A curious footnote to the Czech election. Czech media widely reported that – to paraphrase The Sun– it was expatriate votes wot lost it for the left..

Czechs registered as resident abroad were able to vote in person at Czech embassies and consulates, as were Czech tourists and travellers if they had obtained a polling card from local authorities in the Czech Republic before leaving. Expatriate votes were added to those of a randomly chosen electoral district – in 2006 South Bohemia. Although only something over 7000 of the estimated 70,000 expatriates registered to vote, their votes were apparently to prove crucial for the outcome.

A large majority of the 6674 expatriate votes added in to South Bohemia (50.17%) were cast for the Civic Democrats (LN 5 June 2006, p. 7), reportedly gaining an ODS an additional deputy in the at the expense Social thus preventing the Social Democrats and Communists gaining the 101 seats to sustain a minority Social Democratic with Communists support. However, a Czech Statistical Office official – CSO oversees the election, there is no central electoral commission – was reported as saying that this a misinterpretation as no one had tracked, which votes were counted as which of the various stages

I am rather baffled as – from my, admittedly rather non-specialist knowledge of the working d’Hondt method used to allocate seats – it is the total number of votes for a party divided up, so a net gain of several thousand expat votes could have an impact…

Looks like a visit to the CSO website is in order…

>Unpeeling the Orange Revolution

> Stayed up late to watch an excellent BBC4 documentary Inside the Orange Revolution about Ukraine’s 2004 transition from semi-authoritarianism. Like the best BBC documentaries it achieved a good balance between compelling TV, insider interviews and personal stories. It was also analytical enough to capture some subtleties and complexities– the legitimate interests and concerns of the industrial Russian-speaking Blue camp; the circulation of some not quite so new elites in the Orange movement; the extremism of the some ultra-nationalist element in West Ukraine living off the interwar/war time Ukrainian Insurgent Army tradition, who formed part of the Orange coalition (co-opted and kept in check by its more liberal, pro-Western leaders).

What struck me is how Velvet Revolutions have now become a strategy for toppling semi-authoritarian regimes centring on that classic flashpoint of illiberal democracy: rigged elections. The ingredients seem to be: broad coalitions and political moderation; large peaceful festive crowds; international media attention; pressure on security sector and previously tame judicial structures; ‘branding’ of the movement through symbols and a label; and good funding and careful preparation – the Orange catering operation, tent city in Kiev’s Independence Square put up by specially recruited former camp site employees

What was striking is how the Revolution was ‘staged’ not in the sense that some left-wing (and occasionally right-wing) critics have argued: that it was an externally directed Trojan Horse for capitalism and US interests, but in the sense of being a familiar situation, strategized for by all sides, rather than the spontaneous, improvised leap in the dark of Czechoslovakia in 1989. There is now even a computer game simulating peaceful transition to democracy A Force More Powerful

Doubtless President Putin has learned a few lessons even if, like me, he has not had time to download the game …

>Czech Republic: Ghost of a Blue Chance?

> The Czech Civic Democrats entered the 2005-6 election seasons trumpeting a extensive and radical package of flat taxation and welfare reform, prepared over several years. The party’s Pyrrhic victory in the election, which leaves it without a majority even when the eco-liberals of the Czech Greens Party as political partners, leaves only the ghost of a Blue Chance likely to be implemented and some difficulty questions about this politically unsaleable last legacy of the Klaus era.

The programme had its origins ODS’s traumatic departure in late 1997 from office amid financial scandal and the acrimonious split that followed, which produced the now oh-so-defunct Freedom Union. Overshadowed first by political crisis and later the eurosceptic rhetoric of of the party’s 2002 election campaign (the last under Klaus), few people really noticed that the party’s extraordinary conference of 13-14 December 1997 adopted adopted four rather vague ‘articles’ intended to define the party’s determination to press ahead with market reform and show it wasn’t the unprincipled power and cash-hungry monster that its detractors claimed. The ‘articles’ inlcuded flat taxation reformed, lean ‘cheap state’ and some form of welfare reform based on individual accounts – came to fruition in Blue Chance

It developed more fully in 2003-4 partly under the influence of Slovakia, Estonia and other flat tax success stories and the need to define the party in the post-Klaus era – or perhaps to ensure that VK did not continue to try and run it from Prague Castle (his CEP thinktank staged a conference on flat taxation). . By July 2003 when the package was first launched in outline form, the ‘guaranteed income’ proposal to replace all welfare benefits with a flat rate universal basic income seems to have found it way in. Free market economists were not enthused about it. Whether this was a political move to spike the kind of opposition which was to derail Civic Platform in Poland or a genuine effort at welfare reform is an open question. Finalized in late 2004 it ran to over 200 pages

The Blue Chance was a sitting target for the left and despite the slickness of its campaign, the party had no real strategic or tactical ability to sell the programme. Incompetence aside, ODS seems not to have realised that Czechia was not Slovakia and the Czech Social Democrats, despite their woeful, scandal-ridden performance, splits and frequent change of Prime Minister – were not Mečiar. (Indeed, apart from a commitment clientelistic politics and economics not offset by a modern, modernizing ideology, Mečiar posed an obstacle to reform because of his enduring relatively popularity and his party’s long-term imperviousness to splits). Polls showed that the same 25-30% of voters that votes for right liked the proposal and that many voters misunderstood it or simply didn’t have the foggiest

Politically, caught out the result is both a watering down of their proposals both in negotiations with coalition allies (currently delicately balanced) and – more significantly – as unspecified concessions to the opposition Social Democrats as the price of their ‘toleration’ for a minority government.

The result in policy terms– like the result of every election since 1996 arguably– will, it seems be a kind of social-liberal centrist politics by default. All Czech parties after all, Communists perhaps excepted, do agree in principle that taxation is too high and budgeting too inflexible , so perhaps there will be a simplification of the tax system, say, with some mild general downward pressure on tax rates.

As some commentators Jiří Pehe for one argue, the Czech Republic (and also Slovakia) may not end up the any worse for such centre politics by default even if will not win (any more) plaudits from The Economist.

Oddly, however, inPehe’s reflections the issues of which policies are right is overshadowed by (and indeed confused with) the question of preventing a slide into Mečiar-style clientelism and abuse of power via a rough balance of political forces, given (he assumes) a weak civil society and weak rule of law. Here I think he is slightly re-living the politics of the 1990s. At least I hope he is…

>Reporting for doo-ty (and losing of course) – I am John Kerry

> Gave the Holland-Argentina gamea miss to try out 80Soft’s US election simulator President Forever – thrown in for a mere £3.00 to with the British version of the game PM Forever. P4E is an altogether grander affair– huge campaign budget of $74 million and a Vice-Presidential candidate to barnstorm and fund raise.

Despite not knowing my Arkansas from my elbow as far as swing states are concerned – apart from the few big states I was ashamed to realise I hardly knew one from another on the map- I fought a tough and negative campaign. I made some fairly ghastly mistakes, of course– campaigning too hard early on then fading badly in California (luckily the Golden State quickly came good); underspending on advertising, leaving $16 million still in the kitty on election day; and finally driving Kerry to exhaustion and then reeling desperately to spin bad news when the Senator had to two days R&R in the final week.

In the end, however, did give I George W a run for his money. In fact did better than the real Kerry. As with Al Gore in 2000 I actually outpolled Dubya, but lost by 30 electoral college votes after losing Florida (27 votes) by 0.5% which would have delivereda narrow Democrat win. Ironically, Florida was one of the few states whose importance (or location) I actually was aware of. Repeated barnstorming and targeted ads on Bush couldn’t get me beyond level pegging in the Sunshine Sun. Perhaps a close look at the demographics or might have helped, or maybe brother Jeb had a hand.

In the end, I was rather unnervedjust how geographically limited the Democrat vote is even when they almost win,. Even allowing for population density basically New England, the Eastern seaboard and the West Coast. Hair raising too justhow high the stakes are given the small number of electoral units (50) – and still smaller number of large and/or swing states .The UK election is a more localised battle over 650 UK constituencies. Readers in Des Moines will be pleased to know that as Kerry I won Iowa,.

>Slovak elections through a Czech looking glass

> Last weekend’s Slovak elections were as anticipated were won by Smer – Social Democracy of populist turned reasonably respectable Social Democrat, Robert Fico. Smer, effecttivel founded at SSEES in December 1999 when Fico was a still a somewhat troubled star turn of the post-communist Democratic Left party – pulled in 29% of the vote. The major surprises were the much better than expected performance of outgoing the centre-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union of outgoing PM (18% rather than the expected 10%) and the re-entry into parliament of the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party with a stonking 11% which may be their best performance ever.

Vladimír Mečiar‘s HZDS continues its secular decline with a mere 8.5% and may with the rise of Smer have blown its chance to transform itself into a moderate national-populist grouping as say the Croatian Democratic Union did following the death of Tudjman, although Tudjman manage to die at a politically opportune moment, while Mečiar seems in rude health, physically if not politically. The Christian Democrat Movement (KDH) performs respectable, but has a limited electorate and no longer has the broad potential it once seemed to have.

Various small liberal parties like the Free Forum and the Alliance of the New Citizen, like their Czech equivalent was culled by the electorate. The Slovak Communists too duck out of parliament, continuing a pattern of small workerist groups briefly stoking up enough support to gain representation for one term but then losing the support of a fickle electorate of industrially declining regions concentrated in East Slovakia.

Viewed through a Czech prism there are parallels – a strong, if populist, Social Democrat party (Fico and Paroubek – who campaign in Slovakia for Smer as indeed did Miloš Zeman); a small niche Christian Democratic party – more socially conservative in Slovakia, however; and a bloc of 20% of suspect anti-reform voters (Slovak Nationalists and Mečiar’s part) loosely equivalent to the Czech Communist, I suppose, if politically harder to read. Geographically as in Czechia, the right wins the capital and the more prosperous Western regions, while the poor East and central districts are bastions of the left.

The main Czech-Slovak difference is the weakness of the Slovak civic right –which has about half the support of its Czech equivalent and the presence of the Hungarian coalition party as the joker in the pack. The biggest and most obvious difference – so obvious I forgot to mention it is the Slovak Social Democrats won, despite polling less than their Czech equivalents (who are, nevertheless, arguably the real winners of the Czech elections, but that’s another story…)

Of course, in a sense the Slovaks, having implemented a fairly brutal and radical set of labour market and welfare reforms on the crest of a post- Mečiar wave do not in fact need a strong liberal right and, as the Czech case, shows mobilizing 35% of the electorate for flat taxation and free markets can get you nowhere tends also to mobilize the left.

>Czech parties on integration and globalisation

> For my sins I have been reading the two main Czech parties’ views on the development of the EU après accession

The Social Democrats’ recent programme discusses the EU at length, arguing that accession had realised the ideals of Czechoslovakia’s founder Tomáš Masaryk, bringing security and economic growth at minimal social cost. The Social Democrats endorsed all aspects of integration, advocating a new process to adopt a EU Constitution; further tax harmonization; a Scandinavian-style European social model linked to the Lisbon Agenda, a strengthened role for national parliaments and the European Parliament and civil society; the further development of CFSP; and the adoption of the Euro by 2010. The party also stressed the need to prepare for Czech Presidency of the EU in 2009. The social model really is the focus of their concern. They are preoccupied with the risk of a race to the bottom – the need to avoid ‘social and tax dumping’ – caused by the pressures of globalization and a global economy by ‘multinational capital’ – not quite the language of the Third Way, although in office Czech Social Democrats are quite keen to have multinational capital in the country on their terms and offer it some fairly generous tax breaks.

ODS’s election programme dealt entirely with domestic reform but the telephone book sized Blue Chance programme of course has an extensive discussion from the pen of Jan Zahradil. Zahradil agrees that economic globalization is key, going so far as to say that international politics and international relations as having been ‘economized’: trade and economics were replacing traditional military power – this mean inter alia the transfer of foreign trade policy to rationalized and professionalized Czech Foreign Ministry and diplomatic service along more managerial and economic lines (17-22).

However, he is much less concerned about the pressures of globalization – not exactly embraced, but seen as a long term trend – and sees much more of clash between the interests of member states and much more of an inherent and insoluble problem of effectiveness in an enlarging EU

He thinks in a globalized world the national state – understood as ‘purely political (not ethnic) category’ – is a ‘useful tool’ because success in a globalized world did not imply integration into larger units but the retention by small states with open economies and national foreign policies allowing them to react quickly and flexibly to the challenges and risks of a complex, rapidly changing environment (4-5). The nation state also allows the ‘direct influence and control by voters of the conduct of national political elites’ and is incidental irreplaceable because ‘of a common national language, a commonly interpreted historical experience and the common national identity, which stem from these’ (3)

The idea that small country’s gain enhanced international political clout through membership of a global player like the EU is also dismissed Paradoxically, it argued, the very influence in world politics that attracts small states to the EU is undermining the EU’s capacity to be a coherent actor in international affairs, by creating an ever larger and more unwieldy Union less and less capable agreeing and pursing a clear foreign policy (unless it goes the whole hog and imposes) unreasonable restrictions on national sovereignty

Although Zahradil welcomes enhanced Czech influence within the EU following accession and full participation in the Single Market, he sees EU as policies uneven patchwork of liberalizing and regulatory measures in need of reform. The EU Constitution was rejected a tool for a ‘hard core’ of larger countries to pursue their own interests as its proposed voting mechanisms and extension of QMV would marginalize small countries, denying them the necessary flexibility to follow a national foreign policy (9-10). Instead ODS supported a multi-speed Europe made up of different groups of countries practicing varying levels of integration (10).

Czech foreign policy should be ‘realistic, practical and sober, devoid of messianism and altruism, for which it lacks realistic means’; focused on goals, rather than abstract notions of ‘rightness’; and judged in the light of the Czech Republic’s resources and geo-political position (6). It stressed the need for Czech European policy to focus on building coalition of like-minded countries within the EU to seek a more market-oriented, less federal EU. The Union’s ‘Northern tier’ (UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, and Baltic states) and Portugal were identified as natural allies (9-10, 14)

Zahradil displays a very range of different arguments and, although written earlier, his paper seems more defensive, as perhaps one would expect of a document which stands outside the EU mainstream and the prevailing trend of current integration. Its ‘realism’ seeks Czech as (best off as) a little country with global pretension, secured by a strong free market economy with its defensive needs, such as they are, underwritten by NATO. The stress is on bi-lateral relations with European states and some form of Neighbourhood Policy to secure the stability of borderlands

Jistoty a prosperity: Manifest ČSSD za silnou a jednotnou Evropu. Prague: ČSSD: 2006

Jan Zahradil, Realismus místo iluzí: modrá šance pro českou diplomacii. Prague: ODS, 2004

>Eastern reproaches – Europhile Tories scrutinise prospective allies

> The Conservative Group for Europe– fighting a rearguard action against EPP withdrawal – have an interesting, if partisan, briefing on potential East (and a few West) European allies for the Tories if they do indeed bid adieu to the EPP (‘Meet the new Allies: Alternatives to the EPP-ED Group’, CGE Briefing No. 2, March 2006,

Two, including Poland’s Law and Justice, are members of the Alliance for a Europe of Nations, whose politics have an old-style Gaullist feel of nationalism and economic dirigisme topped off the with a dose of social conservatism – I still feel there is little to choose between the illiberalism and homophobia of their prospective CEE allies and that of sections of the EPP – ironic (if vaguely heartening) to see that anti-discrimination issues are suddenly of such import in the Tory party, although cynics might say that for Conservatives for Europe – decent and moderate though they probably are – the ‘nutters’ argument is basically a ploy to avoid an argument about the EU they are likely

The basic problem for the Tories is that there no clear correlation on the European centre-right (either in their new faction or the old EPP) between the federalism/anti-federalism divide on Europe and the socio-economic policy divide between social and economic liberals ‘(liberal-conservatism’) on one hand and more traditional continental social conservatism, which is economically more corporatist and dirigiste on the other. For the Tories, one feels, the Liberal group might be a happier hunting grounding than the AEN , but alas for them many right-wing economic liberal are happy with a more integrated and less national Europe

Such pro-integration Central European liberals are, of course, intellectually in very good company. Hayek and von Mises (at least in 1940s) were proponents of federal market Europe run by enlightened bureaucrats…

This is perhaps one reason why Jan Zahradil may not, in fact, manage to be a Czech Cameron – even if he does become leader – and capture the awkward 5% of urban liberal voters that eludes the Civic Democrats, keeping them out of power. This section of the Czech intelligentsia is ardently pro-European, whereas in Britain, in a certain sense, even we liberal middle class types are all eurosceptics now – albeit of very different hues. How long before Czech intellectual euro-enthusiasm is corroded by Czech intellectual scepticism, I wonder…

>Prickly customer

> At the World Cup the Czechs have been checked – and in the end comprehensively outplayed – by Ghana. So much for the computer programme that predicted the Czechs would win the tournament. Strange how in the World Cup globalization has proved the great equalizer, sucking in players from across the globe – and beyond the old Iron Curtain – to European leagues making a much more even competition of the Weltmeisterschaft.

Meanwhile, in the back garden finally weeding out the overgrown herbaceous borders has revealed, of all things, a buried pottery hedgehog. He is now on display and named Tomáš. Quite why the previous owner of the house – a retired official at Mid-Sussex District Council – would bury a pottery hedgehog this I can’t imagine. Suburban white witchcraft to keep down his council tax down perhaps?