Last weekend’s elections did less than expected to counter the run of extremely close results that has plagued psephologists for the last year or so.
In Brazil, incumbent Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva narrowly failed to reach the 50% required to avoid a run-off, finishing with 48.6%: seven percentage points ahead of his rival, centrist Geraldo Alckmin, whom he will face in the second round on 29 October.
Although Lula is still likely to win, being forced to a second round is a big comedown from the commanding lead that he held last month in the polls. The slippage is being blamed on a corruption scandal and on Lula’s failure to show up for a candidates’ debate last week, but it’s further evidence that Latin America’s swing to the left is over.
Austria was much closer: contrary to expectations, the opposition Social Democrats finished narrowly ahead of the People’s Party, 68 seats to 66. But neither party is close to a majority in its own right; even in coalition with the Greens, the Social Democrats would have only 88 seats out of 183.
That leaves two possibilities either the People’s Party will renew its coalition with the far right (now two parties instead of one, since Joerg Haider’s splinter group just reached the 4% threshold for representation), giving them 95 seats, or the two major parties will govern together – historically not an unusual occurrence in Austria.
Europe’s other election on Sunday was a complex affair in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Preliminary results show the country still deeply divided, with the majority of Serbs voting for continued autonomy, but Muslims and Croats voting for candidates who support greater integration. That’s bad news for the international community, which would like to hand back control of the country but may still be required to keep the peace.
Finally there was Zambia, which voted last Thursday but where the electoral commission took its time in releasing results. Early trends, coming from the central, more urbanised part of the country, had favoured the challenger, Michael Sata, who had worried some observers on election day by expressing his admiration for Robert Mugabe.
The final result, announced yesterday, however, gave victory to incumbent president Levy Mwanawasa, albeit with only 43% of the vote. Sata had 29%, with a third candidate, Haikande Hichilima, on 25%. Future democracy campaigners could do worse than demand the introduction of preferential voting.