April 17, 2020
Should leaders cash in on their approval ratings and seek early elections?
South Korea rewarded President Moon Jae-in and his party for their handling of the Covid-19 crisis with a landslide election victory. Is this pandemic boosting the re-election chances or ruling parties also in Europe? If so, will this be true also next year, when the Germans, the Czechs and the Dutch are scheduled to hold their general elections? Or will some be tempted to hold snap elections?
Approval ratings for leaders in Europe skyrocketed during this crisis. This was more so for Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson than for Emmanuel Macron, but even the French president got an initial boost before French impatience set in. What happens once the lockdown ends and the economic consequences kick in fully? To be the man or woman of the hour in a crisis is defined by decisiveness as well as timing. Once the crisis is over other events intrude and people might want to move on. It will depend on whether the credit of crisis management still carries enough weight at the polling station, and how well the party manages the economy in the ensuing recession.
In Greece, media commentators are discussing the question of whether or not Kyriakos Mitsotakis should seek snap elections this summer or autumn, to cash in on his record-high popularity but also to get a fresh mandate for the tough decisions that the ensuing economic downturn will undoubtedly require. Macropolis writes the time of reckoning will come in the autumn, when the draft budget will have to reflect the economic shock. At that point the government will be faced with the inevitable political cost. This has led observers to speculate that Mitsotakis will seek re-election before the autumn.
But calling early elections has its risks, too. A public that is asked to forego Easter celebrations and to bear the economic consequences of a state of emergency is unlikely to react well to what some might see as opportunistic elections. Using the pandemic as a reason to meddle with the election calendar has already proven tricky. Macron had to find out himself that, despite the lockdown, he could not postpone the municipal elections amid stark opposition from the conservatives in the senate and the high council. Only the second round runoffs between finalists was then suspended. Also, given the uncertainty about the course of the pandemic and the timing of the end of the lockdown, the potential health risk of campaigning turns a hypothetical snap election into a high-stakes gamble, concludes Macropolis.