Brexit, Israeli election results and upcoming elections

Latest Brexit developments, stalemate in Israel and previews of elections in Austria, Portugal, Poland and Canada. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

Boris Johnson said he wants a deal with the European Union, but has also said that if there is not a deal, he will ignore parliament’s legislation, and break free of the EU like “the Incredible Hulk”. Courts in Northern Ireland and England upheld parliament’s prorogation, but a Scottish court rejected it. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by next week. Polls in the last week gave the Conservatives nine-point or better leads, except for ComRes (just a one-point Conservative lead).

The key question is whether Johnson is serious about coming to a feasible deal with the EU, or is he pretending so he can blame the EU and parliament once talks collapse? A feasible deal would be attacked by Nigel Farage and hard Leave Conservative MPs, and be unlikely to pass parliament, which three times easily rejected Theresa May’s deal.

The remainder of this article will be a recap of the Israeli election, then previews of elections in Austria (September 29), Portugal (October 6), Poland (October 13) and Canada (October 21). Except for Canada, all these countries use proportional representation.

Neither side wins Israeli election 

The 120 Knesset members were elected by proportional representation with a 3.25% threshold. At the September 17 election, right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud won 31 seats, one behind the left-leaning Blue & White. With potential allies, Netanyahu had 55 seats, to 56 for the opposition.

Yisrael Beiteinu (YB), with nine seats, is the kingmaker. Netanyahu failed to form a government after the April 2019 election because YB advocated introducing conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, which religious parties opposed. YB’s leader, Avigdor Lieberman, said prior to the election that he would only join a Likud and Blue & White government. Neither the left nor the right can claim victory in this election.

Austria (September 29) 

Austria uses proportional representation with a 4% threshold. At the October 2017 election, the conservative ÖVP and far-right FPÖ formed government, having won a clear majority of seats. In May, this government collapsed after the FPÖ leader was accused of collusion with a Russian oligarch, and new elections were scheduled.

Polls have the ÖVP leading with 35.5%, followed by the centre-left SPÖ at 21.6%, the FPÖ at 19.8%, the Greens at 10.9% and the liberal NEOS at 8.5%. The ÖVP would prefer to govern with NEOS, but it is unlikely that these parties will have enough seats. The alternatives are another ÖVP/FPÖ government, or a grand coalition, which had governed prior to the 2017 election.

Portugal (October 6)

Portugal uses proportional representation at the regional level; bigger parties win a greater share of seats than their national votes imply. After the October 2015 election, the Socialists formed a minority government supported by the Left Bloc, Communists and Greens.

There has been a trend towards right-wing and far-right parties internationally, but Portugal is the exception. The Socialists have 39.6% in the polls, the combined vote for conservative parties is just 24.5% and other left-wing parties have a combined 24.1%. The only question, given the bonus for big parties, is whether the Socialists win a majority in their own right.

Poland (October 13)

Poland uses proportional representation in multi-member constituencies with a 5% national threshold for single parties and 8% for coalitions. At the October 2015 election, the Law and Justice (PiS) party won a majority on just 37.6%, as the centre-left coalition fell below the 8% threshold and was wiped out. While socially conservative and anti-immigrant, PiS is economically left-wing.

Polls for this election give PiS 45% of the vote, followed by a coalition of right and left-wing parties on 27% and a centre-left coalition on 13%. It is likely that PiS will win another majority, but the centre-left should return to parliament.

Canada (October 21)

Canada uses first-past-the-post. At the May 2011 election, the Conservatives won a majority on just 39.6% as left-wing parties split virtually all the remaining vote. Prior to the October 2015 election, which the centre-left Liberals won with a majority, current PM Justin Trudeau promised to reform the electoral system, but disappointingly he wimped out.

I will use CBC analyst Éric Grenier’s Poll Tracker. This currently gives the Conservatives 34.4%, the Liberals 34.1%, the left-wing NDP 13.8%, the Greens 9.5% and the Quebec Bloc 4.4%. Although the two major parties are tied in vote share, the Liberals are expected to win 167 of the 338 seats, the Conservatives 139, NDP 16, Quebec Bloc 12 and Greens four.

Essential Research leadership ratings

The latest Essential poll finds Scott Morrison’s approval rating edging up to a new high, with most respondents supporting a tough line on offshore detention of asylum seekers – but not so tough that they support the repeal of medical evacuation laws.

Another fortnight, another Essential Research poll that baulks on publishing voting intention numbers. We do, however, get the monthly leadership ratings, which find Scott Morrison at a new peak of 49% approval, up one on a fortnight ago, with disapproval down one to 36%. Anthony Albanese is down two on approval to 36% and up two on disapproval to 31%. Morrison also records the strongest preferred prime minister lead out of the four such results published by Essential since the election, at 46-25, out from 44-28 last month.

The poll also finds strong support for indefinite offshore detention for asylum seekers, with 52% supportive and 32% opposed. However, only 21% accept the government’s position that the medical evacuation legislation “will weaken our borders and result in boats arriving in Australia as they have in the past”, with 41% saying it strikes an appropriate balance and 23% saying it does not go far enough.

A series of questions on Friday’s climate strikes finds 56% in favour and 30% opposed, although only 35% said they were aware of them in response to an initial question, with 54% saying they were unaware. The New South Wales-based respondents to the survey, of which there were 352, were asked a further question on a mooted relaxation of the state’s lockout laws, which 58% supported and 30% opposed.

The poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from an online panel of 1093 respondents.

Triumph of the spill

A relatively bloodless year in Australian politics stands to be interrupted by a conservative spill motion against Gladys Berejiklian over abortion reform, quixotic as it may appear.

Three of the principal Liberal Party dissidents against Gladys Berejiklian’s handling of a conscience vote on abortion law reform, Mulgoa MP Tanya Davies and upper house members Matthew Mason-Cox and Lou Amato, have announced they will move a spill motion against her leadership tomorrow, despite not having an alternative contender to line up behind. The Australian reports the rebels believe they will get the support of between 15 and 20 members of the 46-member party room, but the press gallery consensus on Twitter is that this is highly optimistic. The leader of the Nationals, John Barilaro, has taken to Twitter to denounce the motion as “ridiculous”, noting that the party’s coalition agreement is with Berejiklian personally.

The bill is sponsored by independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich but is the subject of a Liberal Party conscience vote, in which Berejiklian has been among the minor of party representatives in favour. There have been suggestions that Davies and Riverstone MP Kevin Conolly would walk out of the party in protest, which would cost the government its bare majority. However, Conolly does not appear to have signed on for the spill motion. Developing …

UPDATE: The spill was called off early this morning, ostensibly because the rebels had been offered concessions on the abortion bill, although a source quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald flatly denied this, offering that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists”. Another (or perhaps the same one) later said the spill was called off because they “couldn’t get more than three votes”. It seems the rebels had been hoping on a secret ballot, and recognised they would find few if any takers for a vote conducted on a show of hands. There has been a prompt return to business as usual in New South Wales politics, with the spill move passing unremarked at this morning’s party room meeting, and Sports Minister John Sidoti standing aside in the afternoon pending an ICAC investigation.

In through the out door

Sarah Henderson returns to parliament via a Senate vacancy and a hotly contested preselection, as Coalition MPs blow bubbles on electoral “reform”.

Two brief news items to relate on Australian matters, as well as which we have the latest of Adrian Beaumont’s increasingly regular updates on the constitutional mess that is Brexit.

Sarah Henderson, who held the seat of Corangamite for the Liberals from 2013 until her defeat in May, will return to parliament today after winning preselection to fill Mitch Fifield’s Victorian Senate vacancy. This follows her 234-197 win in a party vote held on Saturday over Greg Mirabella, a Wangaratta farmer and the husband of former Indi MP Sophie Mirabella. After initial expectations that Henderson was all but assured of the spot, Mirabella’s campaign reportedly gathered steam in the lead-up to Saturday’s vote, resulting in a late flurry of public backing for Henderson from Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg, Jeff Kennett, Michael Kroger and Michael Sukkar.

Also, The Australian reports Queensland Liberal Senator James McGrath will push for the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, of which he is the chair, to consider abolishing proportional representation in the Senate and replacing it with a system in which each state is broken down into six provinces, each returning a single member at each half-Senate election – very much like the systems that prevailed in the state upper houses of Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia in the bad old days before the advent of proportional representation.

Ostensibly motivated by a desire to better represent the regions, such a system would result in a Senate dominated as much as the House of Representatives by the major parties, at a time of ongoing erosion in public support for them. The Australian’s report further quotes Nationals Senator Perin Davey advocating the equally appalling idea of rural vote weighting for the House. The kindest thing that can be said about both proposals is that they are not going to happen, although the latter would at least give the High Court an opportunity to take a stand for democracy by striking it down.

Brexit minus seven weeks: the procrastinating parliament

A large share of blame for the Brexit shambles goes to parliament, which can only procrastinate. Also featured: the September 17 Israeli election. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

Late on September 9, Parliament was prorogued until October 14, after Boris Johnson again fell well short of the two-thirds Commons majority needed for an early election. Earlier, the bill requiring Johnson to request a Brexit extension by October 19 received royal assent. An election cannot now be held until at least mid-November.

While a majority of the Commons opposes a no-deal Brexit, there is no majority for anything else. Theresa May’s deal was rejected three times by decisive to crushing margins. In late March and early April, several options were considered and all were defeated – even though Conservative MPs were given a free vote and the cabinet abstained.

Parliament’s only decision has been to delay the Brexit date, first from late March to late October, and now they want to delay until at least late January. The Commons could not even decide to hold an election.

Given this procrastination, you can see why polls suggest that voters are fed up with Parliament, and are more sympathetic to a no-deal Brexit than to further delay. Boris Johnson has exploited this sentiment.

The legislation passed by Parliament requires Johnson to seek a Brexit extension by October 19. If he does not request an extension, the courts would order him to. If he still defied Parliament, he would be held in contempt of court, and possibly jailed. However, I don’t think Johnson would stop being PM just because he was in jail. The only qualification to be PM is that you are an MP. Unless the sentence was 12 months or more, Johnson would not be immediately disqualified.

It appears that Johnson’s lawyers will attempt to find loopholes in the legislation, and appeal adverse court decisions. Courts can act far faster than normal when required, but Johnson will hope to get through the 12 days between October 19 and 31 without his actions being declared illegal by the Supreme Court, the highest UK court of appeal.

Prior to the passage of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act during the 2010-15 Parliament, a government defeated on crucial legislation could call an election – as Johnson tried to do. Almost all legislation concerns the general business of government, whereas this legislation seeks to compel just the PM to act against his wishes.

The Australian government cannot refuse to implement the Medevac legislation, as this legislation is carried out by civil servants. Any executive order directly contradicting legislation would be quickly struck out by the courts.

If a no-deal Brexit occurs on October 31, it will be because Johnson forced Parliament to choose between no-deal and something more unpalatable, with no procrastination available. Examples are: no-deal vs PM Jeremy Corbyn, or no-deal vs no Brexit.

Polls released last weekend were mixed. The Conservative lead was 3-5 points in four polls, ten points in Opinium and 14 points in YouGov. A ComRes poll released Tuesday had the Conservative lead falling from four points to one. Having alienated Remain voters, Johnson must avoid disappointing Leave voters, so it seems unlikely he will either extend Brexit or revert to a deal similar to May’s.

On the economic fundamentals, the Conservatives should be winning. In the latest figures, UK unemployment was 3.8%, and real wage growth in the year to July was 1.9% excluding bonuses.

Israeli polls suggest another deadlocked Knesset

Right-wing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have won his fourth successive term at the April 2019 election when right-wing and religious parties won a combined 65 of the 120 Knesset seats. But Yisrael Beiteinu demanded conscription be introduced for the ultra-Orthodox, which the religious parties opposed. Netanyahu was unable to form a government, and new elections were scheduled for September 17.

Polls suggest a similar outcome to March 2019. Netanyahu’s Likud and its allies have 56-58 combined Knesset seats. The left-leaning Blue & White and other parties who could support it have 53-55 seats. So Yisrael Beiteinu, which is not a left-wing party, may well decide if there can be a new government after the election.

All 120 Knesset seats are elected by national proportional representation with a 3.25% threshold. Netanyahu’s task will be easier if a far-right party clears the threshold. Polls close at 5am September 18 Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

Anthony Albanese’s personal ratings take a hit, but no change on the voting intention headline in the third poll since the great federal election miss.

As related by The Australian, the third Newspoll since the fall is unchanged on the second, conducted three weeks ago, in showing the Coalition with a two-party lead of 51-49. The primary votes are Coalition 43% (41.4% at the election), Labor 35% (33.4%), Greens 12% (10.4%) and One Nation 5% (3.1%, although they did not contest every seat at the election). All four are up a point compared with the previous poll, reflected in a four point drop in “others” to 5%. I’m struggling to identify the last time Newspoll had the Greens at 12% – certainly not at any point in the last term (UPDATE: It was in March 2016).

Scott Morrison is up a point on approval to 49%, after dropping three points last time, and his disapproval is up three to 39%, which is still three down on the first poll after the election. Anthony Albanese records a net negative rating for the first time, being down six on approval to 35% (after gaining two last time), and up six on disapproval to 40% (after dropping two last time). Morrison’s preferred prime minister lead is reportedly at 20%, compared with 18% last time, although the exact numbers are not yet provided (UPDATE: Morrison’s lead has increased from 48-30 to 48-28).

The poll comes with a glimmer of improved transparency, in that we are told exactly how many respondents came from its online survey (956) and automated phone poll (705) components. It was conducted from Thursday to Sunday.