Inching towards Judgement Day?
The astonishing success of the far-right National Front in France is part of a global trend against establishments. Neither the far-Left nor the far-Right has been universally embraced. But voters everywhere are expressing their exasperation with the two party system which has its apron strings tied to corporates and, thereby, to international finance.
Two-party systems are as old as the hills. But the ones in bad odour with the electorate are part of the post-Soviet world order erected directly or indirectly, under American auspices. Such a world order did not arrive riding on a crest of democracy and human rights. It was brazenly sold as the triumph of the market.
The popular imagination shaped by the market mythology found the 2008 collapse of capitalism’s citadel, Lehman Brothers, inexplicable. The economic downturn would just not be arrested. The first instalment of Manmohan Singh’s Prime Ministerial year from 2004 to 2009 glided smoothly because not only was the global economy holding but also free market excesses were being kept in check by a large contingent of Left parties supporting the government.
The second term was so badly tainted by corruption and a popular disgust with the Gandhi family that the corporates switched sides. They mounted the world’s most expensive media campaign which brought Narendra Modi to power. While the corporate imagined Modi would do their bidding (give them unfettered access to, for instances, mines, that tribals jealously guard), the voter experienced a huge anti-climax. He had brought down Manmohan Singh and the Gandhi family. This one negative act had the consequence of placing Modi on the Prime Ministerial gaddi.
What erupted as a record success of AAP in Delhi was actually the voter’s realisation that he is hemmed into the two-party system, which, post poll, is controlled by the same set of interests – the corporates. Whether AAP falls in that category will be known later. There is a good reason why the two premier political parties in India are frequently described as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
The shocking endorsement of Marine Le Pen by the French voter does not necessarily signal a dark cloud of racism over France. Le Pen is the beneficiary of the terrorist attacks in Paris three weeks ago. Had elections taken place in the shadow of some economic debacle, a major corporate scandal, elements of the French Left would have asserted themselves. The electorate, in other words, is not rushing towards something it likes. It is demonstrating a sense of fatigue with what has been its lot for too long.
Even the Tweedledum – Tweedledee image fits nicely. Francois Hollande’s Socialist party has decided to withdraw from the second round of voting this Sunday (December 13) so that his floating voters can help the Republican Right’s Nicolas Sarkozy prevent the National Front from winning. The future of refugees from Syria is tragically in the balance.
I saw a completely different picture in Madrid. A placard, as big as a cinema screen, is pinned on the facade of the newly elected communist Mayor’s office: Refugees Welcome. This is the sentiment in Valencia, Barcelona. Photographs of Pablo Iglesias, a charismatic leader of Podemos, the communist party are common. The party did well in a different context. Spain’s economic predicament is desperate. Over 55 percent of the under 35 years are unemployed. Speculative builders had, with government help, built 40 million housing units, more than the total constructed by Britain, France and Germany. The bubble burst in 2009 and angry demonstrators crowded the city squares. The political system imploded.
The establishment, including the media, is still throwing its weight behind the discredited Peoples Party and the Spanish Socialist Party. Do Podemos- like electoral eruptions have the strength to take on the might of well-entrenched establishments? Such a question is precisely what will be on test in the December elections.
While Podemos takes heart from the fact that the Communist Party is part of the ruling coalition in Portugal, the compromises made by Syriza, the Communist Party of Greece, have demoralised left forces in Europe.
The important point is the widespread disenchantment with the post-Cold War structures erected in the name of democracy and the unfulfilled promise of never ending boom for the market.
Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, the Scottish vote for separation, Joko Widodo as a surprise President of Indonesia and a host of others are all symptomatic of popular restiveness with established structures.
Who knows the world may be inching towards the Day of Judgement. Why are Pundits not giving credence to the fact that Donald Trump is a front-runner for the Republican nomination – at least at the moment?
The media may have blacked out Bernie Sanders, but he is giving Hillary Clinton the run for her money. The Wall Street Journal reports that 18 to 29-year-olds polled by the Harvard Institute of politics prefer anti-establishment candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. While 35 percent favoured Clinton, 41 percent favoured her insurgent challenger Sanders.
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs. Views expressed are strictly personal)