Hope, fear, frustration: Driving forces for change

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Whatever may be the reason(s), 90 percent of Filipinos welcome 2016 with hope, per the surveys by Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations. Here’s wishing one and all a happy and exciting new year!

Before midyear, we’ll know the results of the national and local elections and may be able to project whether the nation can venture into any palpable policy change or face up to being mired in more of the same.

But we’ll not dwell on that now. Let’s look at other areas of the world where, as 2015 drew to a close, the political dynamics are truly interesting and educative. Take, for instance, what’s happening in Europe and in the United States – the perceived/acknowledged seats of “liberal democracy.” In both places, the rise of left-wing and ultra-right political forces have raised both hope and fear.

The results of the elections in the United Kingdom, France, and Spain are deemed as strong warnings to the establishment in each country and the European Union.

In the UK, the Nationalists (strong autonomy advocates) came to power in Scotland, while the left flank of the Labour Party won the leadership over the moderate faction identified with former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Conservative government is poised to call a referendum on whether to get Britain out of the European Union.

In the French regional elections, the far-right National Front gained more votes and council seats that bolstered the standing of its leader, Marine Le Pen, as challenger for the presidency in the 2017 election.. Only a last-minute collaboration between the ruling Socialist Party and the center-right Republican Party prevented the FN from capturing leadership in two important regions.

The parliamentary election results in Spain were far more dramatic. Two newly formed parties – the left-wing populist Podemos (We Can party, advocating “new politics” which arose from the 2011 protest movement against austerity and corruption) and the center-left Ciudadanos (Citizen’s party) – ended the two-party dominance in Spanish politics.

Since 1978 the conservative People’s Party and the Socialist Workers Party have alternately taken power. Having garnered a combined 35 percent of the votes, Podemos and Ciudadanos have prevented the ruling PP from retaining the majority of seats in Parliament. Of the total 350 seats, the PP won only 123 (29 percent). The Socialists got 90 seats (22 percent. Podemos won 69 seats (21 percent) while Ciudadanos got 40 (14 percent).

Spain’s voters punished the two big parties not just for what they’ve done, writes journalist-author Miguel Anxo Murado, but for what they represent: “a way of doing politics that many Spaniards now deem obsolete.., seen as the root of many of the country’s ills.” A Guardian editorial says the election results have opened up Spanish politics “in a dramatic way… a new pluralism has replaced the old duopoly,.” What brought this about was the anti-austerity movement, also raging elsewhere in Europe (in Greece, where the left-wing Syriza Party has won power, and in Portugal and Italy).

With the Socialists and Ciudadanos unwilling to team up with the PP, it remains to be seen whether Podemos can forge a coalition or alliance with the Socialists and smaller left parties to form a government (Ciudadanos also differs with Podemos). Failure by any group to form a government will mean new parliamentary elections have to be called.

Two dire views have been presented on this phenomenon.

First, in the New York Times, conservative op-ed writer Ross Douthat detects a shift towards “the liberal order’s vulnerability..” 2015 was, he observes, “a memento mori moment for our institutions – a year of cracks in the system, of crumbling firewalls, of reminders that all orders pass away.”

In the US, “the heart of the neoliberal imperium,” Douthat cites the emergence of a “New Left” manifest in the “turmoil on college campuses” and the appeal of “an avowed socialism on the Democratic Party’s campaign trail [Sen. Bernie Sanders’].” But he’s more alarmed by the Republican Party’s Donald Trump’s “European-style nationalism [anti-foreign, anti-Muslim] and “boastful authoritarianism… that so many dissatisfied voters find attractive.”

Though he still bets that neither the left nor the far-right will likely win powser in any of the countries they have emerged, Douthat ends his commentary thus: “But after liberalism’s year of living dangerously, for the first time in a long time it might make sense to hedge on that bet.”

Direr still is the analysis of Joschka Fischer, the German Green Party leader, former foreign minister and vice chancellor, in a piece titled “The fascism of the affluent.” He points out that nationalistic and anti-foreign political parties had been on the rise in Europe long before the Syrian refugee crisis besieged the continent – specifically in the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

“All of them are raging against the ‘system,’ the ‘political establishment’ and the EU,” Fischer writes, “They also more or less unashamedly embrace an ethnic definition of the nation,’ – a throwback to the 1930s concept that “membership in the nation is derived from common descent and religion.”

The 1930s rise of extreme nationalism and fascism, he points out, is usually explained by the grim consequences of World War I: millions killed, militarist notions pervaded, Europe’s economy ruined, “leading to a global economic crisis and mass unemployment, destitution, poverty and misery.”

But today’s conditions in Europe and the US are different, he claims, with evident affluence among the big nations. What accounts for their “citizens’ attraction to the politics of frustration,” Fischer adds, is “fear based on the instinctive realization that the ‘White Man’s World’… is in terminal decline, both globally and in the societies of the West.”

The end of the West is a dim prospect, to br sure, Fischer concludes. To forestall it, he urges France to stop the far-right’s rise, and the US “to reorient itself for good.”

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