People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 42

October 18, 2009

Election Results Reflect Recession Impact


R Arun Kumar



ELECTIONS were held in four important countries recently-Japan, Germany, Portugal and Greece. These elections assume significance as they are held during the period when the world leaders have declared that the severe recession that had hit the world has �bottomed-up� with �shoots of growth� beginning to be seen. These election results are one of the indicators to show how the people perceived the reality confronting them and expressed their preferences. Let us briefly look at the conditions of the common people before looking at the results of these elections.




Japan is hard hit by recession and its economy has taken a severe beating. This forced Japan to concede its tag of world's 'second largest economy' to China, more than five years ahead than it was forecast. In July, the unemployment rate hit a record level of 5.7 per cent, two percent higher than at the end of 2007, as 1.3 million workers joined the ranks of the jobless. Youth participation in the labour force fell by 350,000 in the two years to July 2009. Even before the downturn, the working poor made up more than 80 per cent of the poor in Japan. Around 11 per cent of individuals living in households with at least one person working are poor in Japan.

Unemployment rate in Germany, Europe's largest economy, rose to 8.6 per cent in March as the global economic downturn continued to tighten its grip. The number of people out of work surged to more than 3.5 million. Analysts predict further job losses and that it would reach 4.5 million by next year. Correspondingly poverty too is on the rise, particularly the income differentials. The level of poverty in some eastern parts of the country is up to four times higher than in the south. It comes as no surprise that the regions having the highest level of unemployment also have the highest poverty rate. The overall poverty rate in Germany now is 14.3 per cent.

Portugal too is passing through a critical phase in this period of economic recession where its GDP is expected to contract by over 3 per cent this year. Its unemployment rate is above 9 per cent and is rising.

Greece is another country that was reeling under the affects of global recession. Unemployment in Greece shot up to 9.6 per cent this year far above that was forecast. Young people aged 15-24 years were the worst hit with 25 per cent unemployed in May 2009 against 18.6 per cent in May 2008. Women are the worst sufferers facing the brunt of unemployment, with the unemployment rate of 11.5 per cent compared to 6.3 per cent among men. A third of the Greeks live close to the poverty line or under it. Economic crisis only accentuated their condition and added to their misery.




It is under these conditions of distress that elections were held in these four countries. These hard times were sure to be reflected in the election results.


These conditions had contributed to the worst poll performance of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan. The LDP had ruled Japan since its formation in 1955, except for an 11-month period from 1993 to 1994. It lost 177 seats to the opposition parties and along with them, its hold on power. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) received 42.4 per cent of the proportional block votes cast, taking 308 seats to only 119 for the LDP (26.7per cent of the block votes) and took over the reins of power.

This victory is perceived in Japan more as a defeat of the LDP than as a victory to the DPJ. Though there is not much of a difference between both the parties on certain issues concerning economic and foreign policy, the people of Japan are so thoroughly disgusted with the ruling dispensation that they were desperate to see its back.

The Japanese Communist Party (JCP) retained its seats in this bitterly contested election. The number of votes polled by the JCP also saw a marginal increase in these elections, reflecting the increasing acceptance of the JCP among the Japanese. It received 4.94 million votes, up from 4.91 million in the 2005 general election. Welcoming the result, Shii Kazuo, chairman of the JCP, self-critically stated, �it is true that we were unable to achieve our set goal (increasing the number of seats) and that we are not content with this result. I want to emphasise that with this recent general election, we are clearly on our way to become a stronger party�.


The elections in Germany were dealt extensively in the last issue of People�s Democracy and does not need repetition. In what were considered to be one of the 'dullest' elections in the recent period, the major partner in the ruling coalition, conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had retained power though with reduced votes. This time it is forming the government with a new partner, Free Democrats (FDP) instead of the Social Democrats (SDP). The SDP had its worst election debacle ever, emerging as the loser-in-chief from these elections.

One distinguishing feature of this election is the rabidly pro-business FDP gaining 5 per cent vote and joining the ruling coalition. CDU too expressed their preference for them than the SPD. This would mean a further rightward shift.

Germans had expressed their disapproval of the CDU/CSU-SPD government policies and exercised their options by (i) absenting from the voting as visible from the low voter turnout (ii) voting for the Left parties that saw a substantial rise in their vote share (iii) voting against the SPD seeing it as a betrayer and for the FDP, impressed by the promises that they had made.

There are two positive outcomes from the German election. One, the increased representation of the Left in the German legislature and two, the failure of the Neo-nazis. They not only have failed to win a single seat but also saw a substantial reduction in their votes.


Elections to the Portugal parliament too were held on the same day Germany had gone to the polls. Here too, the ruling party Socialists (PS), returned to power but with a diminished majority. Many voters turned away from both the Socialists and the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD) the parties that have alternated in power from 1974. Around 40 per cent of the electorate stayed at home.

The people were thoroughly dissatisfied with the rule of the Socialists but were not ready to vote for the centre-right opposition. The setback for the PS, which lost its absolute majority, is a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the policies of the current government.

Socialists lost their majority as their vote share fell from 45 per cent to below 36.5 per cent and consequently its seats fell from 121 to 97 in an assembly of 230. The opposition PSD was able to win 29 per cent of the vote and its seats saw an increase from 75 to 81. The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) fought the elections in coalition (Democratic Unity Coalition, CDU) with the Greens. Their vote share increased marginally by 0.3 per cent from the previous elections. This is an increase of 12,805 votes and one seat. The PCP stated that the main objectives for these elections, �more votes, more influence, more members, loss of an absolute majority of the PS� were achieved.

The general elections were immediately followed by elections to the local bodies on 11 October. The results to these elections more or less reflected the results obtained by various parties in the general elections. The PCP secured around 11 per cent of the votes in these elections and strengthened its position in the Setubal peninsula. It also secured important victories in the two major cities of the country, national capital Lisbon and Oporto.


In Greece, the ruling conservatives, ND, thoroughly exposed for their anti-people policies and corruption called for early general elections, two years ahead of schedule. In spite of this they failed to retain power. They lost the elections to the Socialists Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), who were back in power after 11 years. PASOK secured 43.9 per cent of the vote and 160 seats in the 300 seat assembly. The conservatives were able to secure 33.8 per cent of the vote and 91 seats losing 8.3 per cent votes and 61 seats. The vote share of the extreme right had gone up by 1.8 per cent and 5 seats. The Communist Party of Greece, KKE, was in the third position securing 7.5 per cent of the votes and 21 seats. This is marginally down from 8.15 per cent and 22 seats that they had secured in the 2004 elections.

The KKE had self-critically reviewed the elections and had stated that it was not successful in translating its influence and struggles into concrete results in this election. Pointing to the similarities in the policies of the present ruling party and the party that it had disposed from power, it highlighted the need for people to be more vigilant and launch struggles to safeguard their interests.

Though these elections are held in four different countries and two different continents they have some important similarities amongst them.




One, all these results have shown that the governments cannot take the people for granted and pursue policies that suit the interests of the ruling classes. This holds true specially in this period of acute recession where the respective governments are more bothered about bailing out the big business rather than address the concerns of the working classes. It is this warning that can be discerned from the defeat of two ruling parties in Japan and Greece and the reduced mandate to the governments in Portugal and Germany.

Two, the elections in all these countries were conducted in an atmosphere where vitriolic attacks were launched on the communists. There was an attempt to denigrate communists and communist parties by equating communism with fascism. In the entire European Union, an extensive campaign on these lines was carried out. A day was carved out of the calendar to oppose the 'twin dangers of communism and fascism'. The intensity of this campaign can be understood when we note the fact that a student was suspended from the school because he professed his allegiance to socialist ideology in Greece. The Communist Youth League in Czech Republic was banned as it had stated that it adheres to 'socialism' in its programme.

Three, the media, true to its nature played its supportive role to the ruling classes in launching this attack. The media also continuously harped on the two-party system and egged people to vote for either of the ruling class parties than go and vote for a radical alternative-the communist Left. They had done this with a specific intention of ensuring that the people do not strengthen the hands of the real alternative to the capitalist system. It is oft repeated in the media that the present problems that people are facing is not due to the inherent lacunae of the system as such, but due to the policies pursued by 'specific party' or more so because of that 'specific individual'. They reduced these elections into a contest between individuals instead of policies and programmes. They tried to divert the attention of the people by focusing on trivial/non-issues rather than concentrate on the issues concerned with the livelihood of the people. No where was this more true than in Germany.

It was amidst these intense attacks that the communist parties of the said countries fought these elections and were successful in not only defending their previous achievements but also building on them (KKE saw a marginal dip). Another positive feature in these elections is the failure of the extreme right to gain on the discontent amongst the people.

The communist parties in all these countries have already carried out a preliminary review of these elections and have self-critically examined their performance. All of them have resolved to strengthen their respective parties, stand by the people and play the role of constructive opposition by taking up the issues of the people and organise struggles on them.