Dear fellow travellers
Aha, yes, the election. We watched the run-up, the live TV debates and the tough exchanges veering at times towards acrimony. We've followed the arguments on national security, foreign policy and the question of who has the personal authority and good judgement to lead the country. But, as Bulgaria goes to the polls today, it's still an open book as to which of the candidates will accede to the presidency.
While some in Europe have been preoccupied by elections in another continent, political life here at home continues apace. Did you miss the parliamentary elections in Iceland last week where the Independence Party and the socialist Left-Green alliance both made big gains and emerged as the two largest parties in the Althing? The composition of the incoming government still awaits clarification, but what is interesting is that women are now very well embedded in Icelandic democracy. Way back in 1980, Iceland had the world's first democratically elected female Head of State. Following last week's election, women are now better represented than ever before in the Althing. Indeed, with just two seats more, they would outnumber their male colleagues. No European parliament has ever had a majority of female members, but on present trends Iceland might well be the first.
Estonia broke new ground last month when Kersti Kaljulaid assumed office as president of Estonia. At just 46, Kaljulaid is by far the youngest person to serve as the country's president. Female presidents are nowadays fairly common in Europe: Lithuania and Malta are two current examples in the European Union. Though no European country can quite match San Marino's record when it comes to choosing a woman for the top job. In the tiny mountain republic the role of Head of State and Head of Government is combined in the personae of the Captains Regent - the post is always held jointly by two people. No less than 17 different women have served San Marino as a Captain Regent.
Those looking for real drama in a presidential election might look to Moldova, the first round of which was held last week. Cast back just two months to early September and it looked as though there might be as many as 25 candidates on the ballot paper. In the end, Moldovans faced a choice of just nine candidates with economists taking the two top spots. So a run-off on 13 November will see the socialist economist Igor Dodon (who secured 48% of the vote last week) fending off a challenge from Harvard-educated Maia Sandu - who veers towards a more capitalist appreciation of world affairs. She scored 39% in the first ballot. If Ms Sandu does by any chance beat Mr Dodon, then she'll become the first female president in Moldovan history.
Fifty different parties contested elections to the Czech senate held last month. These are fabulously complicated affairs and 35 of the parties took less than one per cent of the votes cast. Meanwhile Lithuania and Montenegro both had parliamentary elections. In some countries, immigration has been a big issue in recent elections, but in Lithuania worries over emigration propelled an agrarian/green alliance to a surprise victory. In Montenegro, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) - the successor party to the former League of Communists - secured the largest share of the vote. In a curious twist to the Montenegrin story, DPS leader Milo Dukanovic resigned just a few days later, thus perhaps ending 25 years of near-continuous involvement in high-level politics in Montenegro. We say 'perhaps' because Dukanovic has resigned before - more than once - and he has the reputation of being the comeback kid of Balkan politics.
With so many European elections over these past weeks, and yet more in the offing, we'll surely be keeping a close eye on the media in the days ahead. How about you?
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)