10 things we learned from the 2018 election

Everyone’s a winner: François Bausch and Felix Braz of Déi Gréng in conversation with Sven Clement of the Pirate party at RTL’s election party on Sunday evening. Anthony Dehez

Everyone’s a winner: François Bausch and Felix Braz of Déi Gréng in conversation with Sven Clement of the Pirate party at RTL’s election party on Sunday evening. Anthony Dehez

Comment: Following a night of surprises and upsets, Delano takes stock of Luxembourg’s new political landscape.

Delano chose François Bausch as the focus of the cover story for the September edition of its magazine because we believed the Déi Gréng minister was the driving force behind the party’s credibility as a party of government. Even though he eschewed the title “kingmaker” before the election, the only reason Bausch’s resurgent party is not in the position of holding the balance of power is because of the failure of the CSV to retain its 23 seats in parliament.

As an “outsider”, albeit one who has reported on politics in the grand duchy since Jean-Claude Juncker first became prime minister in 1995, it is fascinating to watch elections at national and local level unfold. Here are 10 things we have learned from the 23018 campaign and Sunday’s results.

1. Credibility wins

The success of Déi Gréng, as the Pirate party’s Sven Clement also pointed out, is that its ministers managed to implement many of the policies to which they were committed under the 2013 coalition agreement. François Bausch told Delano in July, “If things don’t get done, it’s not because the civil service or administration is to blame but because the minister didn’t want to it happen or did not have the courage to try.”

2. The missing Juncker effect

No matter what you think of Jean-Claude Juncker and the way he operates, there is no doubting that his charisma was instrumental in the CSV maintaining power between 1995 and 2013. Claude Wiseler is an intelligent politician with good intentions, but without Juncker at the helm, the CSV seemed to lack drive and concrete ideas during its five years in opposition--and also lost a massive winner of personal votes in the south.

3. New system needed

When the first official constituency result came in, for the east of the country, questions were being asked about how the CSV could lose 7.5% of its share of the vote yet retain its 3 seats in that district. By comparison, the Greens gained close to 5% of the vote yet did not win a second seat. A reform of the electoral system is urgently required to reflect voter decision. Luxembourg is small enough that a single constituency would be viable. That would also liberate governments from having to choose unsuitable ministers just because they won most votes in a particular district. It might also provide a clearer outcome and end disputes about which party represents “the will of the voters”.

4. Youth vote crucial

Although lacking an official breakdown of voter demographics, the consensus seems to be that the youth vote was crucial in the success of Déi Gréng and the Pirate party. The environment, public transport and concerns about technology and transparency are issues that are of particular concern to the under 25s. They also like to rebel and it seems many chose the Pirate party as the outlet for that dissent rather than the ADR.

5. LSAP needs reboot

Although the often maverick Jean Asselborn remains the most popular politician in Luxembourg, the socialist LSAP cannot transform that into positive election results. Following its poor showing at the local elections last year the party did find a number of younger candidates, most notably in the centre constituency. The trouble is that, unlike in many European countries, the right of centre party--the CSV under Jean-Claude Juncker--chose to implement socially liberal policies that used to be the preserve of the LSAP. It needs a real injection of youth and to find a way to distinguish itself from the other centrist parties.

6. No major shift to right

The far right ADR managed to make a gain of just 1.64% of the popular vote across the country. It regained its seat in the north, where it has a traditional rural stronghold, but failed to make big inroads elsewhere. Breakaway ADR member Joé Thein’s Déi Konservativ polled just 0.52% of the vote in the south, the only constituency in which it stood. The wave of support across many European countries for right wing nationalism did not reach Luxembourg.

7. Democratic deficit even more evident

No matter what you think of allowing non-Luxembourgers to vote in national elections, statistics show that after no-shows, blank and spoiled ballots are taken into account, just 35% of the country actually decided on the make-up of parliament. That should be cause for concern. Even if the current coalition does form the next government, there is no chance of it calling a fresh referendum on the issue. But the new government does need to engage directly with the non-Luxembourg population and listen to its concerns.

8. Language threat dismissed

When the ADR, with support from the Wee 2050 lobby group, campaigned vociferously for streets signs to be inversed so that they indicated the names of towns in Luxembourgish first rather than French, voters clearly realised there were more pressing issues at stake. Most right-minded Luxembourgers acknowledge that more and more non-native residents and cross-border workers are making the effort to learn Luxembourgish and that the “language under threat” claims are just spurious fear mongering.

9. A respectful campaign

There were hugs and smiles from losers as well as winners at RTL’s election party on Sunday evening. Even as some commentators and voters called the 2018 campaign the most divisive and ugly for many years, for those of us versed in the dirty tricks and crass name-calling politics of the UK and USA it appeared to be polite and respectful throughout. Election debates were, with one or two exceptions, conducted without candidates resorting to out-shouting each other.

10. Social media exposes shortcomings

Although official campaigning and public debates were respectful, the instantaneous platform provided by social media commentary once again revealed the shortcomings of some supporters and candidates. Calling the ADR and its supporters fascists was not only censorious but also counterproductive. Similarly, the ADR candidate who shared a post claiming that anyone voting Green could throw away their car keys, just days after slamming the same party for building motorways, was being duplicitous. As Donald Trump has repeatedly proven, taking to social media to post spontaneous reactive commentary can more often than not be embarrassing.