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Apocalyptic Politics of the Populist Right

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VIENNA — Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election was experienced by many right-wing populists in Europe as a momentous turning point. It was their version of 1989, when the fall of the Berlin Wall made liberalism appear unstoppable and triumphant. Right-wing populists from Hungary to Britain believed that if Mr. Trump could become president of the United States, the future belonged to them. President Trump’s 2020 defeat may trigger the rise of a much darker vision.

Fortified by the solidarity of a majority of Republicans, including, it seems, the secretary of state, Mr. Trump has wantonly rejected the outcome of the recent vote. Invoking allegations of fraud, he has made it clear that for him, conceding defeat is a non-starter. This behavior might seem pathetic — and it’s not going to keep him in office — but his decision to ignore the will of the people has ramifications for democracy well beyond the United States.

While most presidents and prime ministers seem ready to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden, a handful of political leaders — Mr. Trump’s allies — are endorsing his defiant gambit. When the media announced Mr. Biden’s triumph last Saturday, right-wing broadcasters across Europe insisted that the elections were not over. While Emmanuel Macron of France and Angela Merkel of Germany seemed more than pleased to usher in a new administration, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary and President Andrzej Duda of Poland were in no rush to congratulate the president-elect.

In fact, at the same time Mr. Trump was calling foul, Mr. Orban was proposing changes to the Hungarian electoral system that should help him to stay in power beyond 2022 and threatened to veto the European Union budget if Berlin and Brussels demanded that rule of law violations lead to the suspension of European funds. By doing it he had made it clear that the outcome of the American elections will not change his policies and that, like Mr. Trump, his choice is defiance. He is ready to block the much needed European Recovery Fund in order to demonstrate that he will not compromise with Brussels.

Democratic politics serves as a nationwide therapy session. It allows voters to express their fears about the future while at the same time reassuring them that when the elections are over, everything will go back to normal. It is hardly surprising then that politicians and the news media depict most elections as turning points — choices that will define the fate of the nation for the next generation. But when the elections are over, democracy forces the losers to focus on the next election, which will without fail be the most important election once again.

By refusing to concede, Mr. Trump sends a message to his allies that for right-wing populists, the next election is of no importance. If they concede today, there will be no victories tomorrow. If in 2016 Mr. Trump’s message was that the future belongs to the nationalist populists; today, by refusing to concede, his defeat he sent the message that populists should fear the future.

In trying to make sense of Mr. Trump’s defiance, most analysts have looked at the president’s personality: Donald Trump never concedes defeat and this entire act of defiance is a way to soothe his ego.

But the reasons his supporters both inside and outside the United States stand by him run much deeper. They reflect the apocalyptic mind-set of the right-wing populist voters in the West.

First, it is crucial to understand that the stakes feel alarmingly high at the moment. People have been haunted for months by mass death; the global economy has been severely disrupted. This is a toxic climate for politics already, encouraging end-times thinking. The failure of Mr. Trump to contain the pandemic further fans the flames.

But the right wing has other reasons to fear the future: A generational divide fuels its deep pessimism. The good majority of Americans voters younger than 25 cast their ballots against Mr. Trump. Similar trends look likely in Europe, where the right-wing’s base is dominated by the aging population. That has only been intensified by the fear of the inflow of migrants who will get the right to vote.

Nobody has articulated the fear of being outvoted as a result of demographic change better than Mr. Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he told his supporters “I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning, because you’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in, and they’re going to be legalized … and be able to vote. Once all that happens you can forget it.” All European populists have echoed Trump’s demographic anxiety.

Can the European experience help America to deal with the reality of contested elections? Unfortunately not.

Consider this: In the 30 years since the end of Communism, Albanians have voted nine times in parliamentary elections. In only three instances has the losing party conceded defeat. In most cases it was the opposition party that rejected the election results and asked its supporters to take to the streets. Usually, it took the American Embassy in Tirana, Albania’s capital, to force the loser to accept reality. In the current American emergency an “Albanian solution” will not work because there is no American Embassy in Washington. Americans must resolve this crisis on their own. And the way they resolve it will determine the future of democracy around the world.

 

Source: – The New York Times

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EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June

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The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.

Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.

Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.

The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.

Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.

Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.

EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.

“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.

The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.

Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.

“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

More details were not immediately available.

 

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

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Belarusian President signs decree to amend emergency transfer of power

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has signed a decree allowing the transfer of presidential power to the security council if he is murdered or otherwise unable to perform his duties, state Belta news agency reported on Saturday.

Lukashenko said in April he was planning to change the way power in Belarus is set up.

Previously, if the president’s position became vacant, or he was unable to fulfil his duties, power would be transferred to the prime minister until a new president took oath.

 

(Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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Scottish nationalists vow independence vote after election win

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By Russell Cheyne

GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) -Pro-independence parties won a majority in Scotland’s parliament on Saturday, paving the way to a high-stakes political, legal and constitutional battle with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the future of the United Kingdom.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the result meant she would push ahead with plans for a second independence referendum once the COVID-19 pandemic was over, adding that it would be absurd and outrageous if Johnson were to try to ignore the democratic will of the people.

“There is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson, or indeed for anyone else, seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our own future,” Sturgeon said.

“It is the will of the country,” she added after her Scottish National Party (SNP) was returned for a fourth consecutive term in office.

The British government argues Johnson must give approval for any referendum and he has repeatedly made clear he would refuse. He has said it would be irresponsible to hold one now, pointing out that Scots had backed staying in the United Kingdom in a “once in a generation” poll in 2014.

The election outcome is likely to be a bitter clash between the Scottish government in Edinburgh and Johnson’s United Kingdom-wide administration in London, with Scotland’s 314-year union with England and Wales at stake.

The nationalists argue that they have democratic authority on their side; the British government say the law is with them. It is likely the final decision on a referendum will be settled in the courts.

‘IRRESPONSIBLE AND RECKLESS’

“I think a referendum in the current context is irresponsible and reckless,” Johnson told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Alister Jack, the UK government’s Scotland minister, said dealing with the coronavirus crisis and the vaccine rollout should be the priority.

“We must not allow ourselves to be distracted – COVID recovery must be the sole priority of Scotland’s two governments,” he said.

The SNP had been hopeful of winning an outright majority which would have strengthened their call for a secession vote but they looked set to fall one seat short of the 65 required in the 129-seat Scottish parliament, partly because of an electoral system that helps smaller parties.

Pro-union supporters argue that the SNP’s failure to get a majority has made it easier for Johnson to rebut their argument that they have a mandate for a referendum.

However, the Scottish Greens, who have promised to support a referendum, picked up eight seats, meaning overall there will be a comfortable pro-independence majority in the Scottish assembly.

Scottish politics has been diverging from other parts of the United Kingdom for some time, but Scots remain divided over holding another independence plebiscite.

However, Britain’s exit from the European Union – opposed by a majority of Scots – as well as a perception that Sturgeon’s government has handled the COVID-19 crisis well, along with antipathy to Johnson’s Conservative government in London, have all bolstered support for the independence movement.

Scots voted by 55%-45% in 2014 to remain part of the United Kingdom, and polls suggest a second referendum would be too close to call.

Sturgeon said her first task was dealing with the pandemic and the SNP has indicated that a referendum is unlikely until 2023. But she said any legal challenge by Johnson’s government to a vote would show a total disregard for Scottish democracy.

“The absurdity and outrageous nature of a Westminster government potentially going to court to overturn Scottish democracy, I can’t think of a more colourful argument for Scottish independence than that myself,” she said.

(Writing by Michael Holden and Andrew MacAskill;Editing by Gareth Jones, Helen Popper, Christina Fincher and Giles Elgood)

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