The north-east of the country will almost certainly be heading for a regional election sometime in the next few weeks if, as expected today, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin formally dissolve the power-sharing executive at Stormont. Arlene Foster’s party has already signaled its intention to wage a desperate blut und boden campaign in the wake of the RHI or ash-for-cash scandal, the DUP-linked straw which broke the back of the troubled cross-community coalition in Belfast. The Dupes are looking over their shoulder at rival unionists in the slightly more moderate UUP and the slightly more extreme TUV, not to mention the pro-union Alliance Party, with a fair degree of anxiety. The right-wing grouping’s less than stellar political reputation continues to be tarnished by its mismanagement – or misappropriation – of public funds and resources, not to mention its frequently expressed hostility towards anything which does not match its own ersatz version of white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant conformity.
In the era of Farage and Trump, Le Pen and Orbán, the DUP might fancy its chances at the ballot box, especially with Brexit looming. However, Ireland is not the United Kingdom or the United States and the British unionist minority on this island nation has a strong moral compass of its own. Appealing to rank tribalism might have worked like an electoral charm in the past for Foster and company but this ballot may be different, unless a reduced number of assembly seats, 108 to ninety, and the vagaries of PRSTV can ride to the DUP’s rescue.
Meanwhile, ponder this from Slate, where a study by Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy, has revealed the number of democratic elections the US and Russia (Soviet Union and Federation) have tried to influence since the end of World War Two:
“Using declassified documents, statements by officials, and journalistic accounts, Levin has found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000, or 11.3 percent of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period. Eighty-one of those interventions were by the U.S. while 36 were by the USSR/Russia. They happened in every region of the world, though most commonly in Europe and Latin America. The two powers tended to focus on different countries, though Italy was a favorite of both, receiving eight interventions by the U.S. and four by the Soviets.
Not all these interventions relied on methods as crude as bags of cash, though many did. Others included training locals of the preferred side in campaign techniques, covertly disseminating damaging information or disinformation about the other side, or providing or withdrawing foreign aid to influence the vote. Levin has found that interventions on average correlate with an increase in the vote of the preferred side of 3 percent, enough to swing a close race.”
Of course, elections in the Six Counties of one type or another have seen their fair share of outside interference down through the years, primarily from the UK. From explicit electoral pacts with the Tories to circuitous funding for pro-union websites the political direction of the region has been continuously contested and misshaped for partisan ends. It will be interesting to see what – if any – wads of cash or extra resources turn up from Britain this time around.