The world is profoundly worried as long standing,well established and predictable political, commercial and economic ties have suddenly become unpredictable
The world as we know it is being profoundly remoulded. The events of the past weeks clearly indicate that the world and the established order could be going through topsy-turvy times ahead.
In less than two weeks, Donald Trump and Francois Fillon, the surprising winner of the first round of France’s centre-right presidential primaries have defied the polls and upset forecasts. Both hold controversial and radical views on a host of issues likely to fundamentally recast the policies of their respective countries in ways which would deepen divisions and ruffle countries that have been long standing allies and traditional partners. Both of them challenge and wish to reshape core policy and strategic decisions traditionally subscribed by their countries.
Are the successive votes in favour of Brexit, Donald Trump and Francois Fillon and their more radical policies this year signs of a pervasive and deep seated anger? Anger at the repeated inability of policies conjured by each new government to improve the standards of living and satisfactorily meet the existential and aspirational needs of the people, in a context of growing inequalities and unfair distribution of the rewards of prosperity. Does the growing support for radical policies reflect the spreading ire and intent of the people to rock the boat and the established order?
Despite proposing an ultra liberal and conservative programme, which is generally deemed to be unrealizable, Francois Fillon who trailed the leading contestant Alain Juppe and former President Nicolas Sarkozy at the polls has leapfrogged them to comfortably win the first round of the centre-right presidential primaries with more than 44% of the vote against Juppe’s 28.6%. The results caused the ignominious exit of Nicolas Sarkozy who came out third with 20% of the votes despite claiming throughout the campaign that he would prove the polls wrong. True to democratic principles, Sarkozy immediately announced his decision to retire from political life.
Sarkozy’s tough rhetoric on immigration, security and national identity did not sway the voters. His image and failure to honour past promises while in power as well as various allegations under judicial investigation took their toll. Trust of the people is a vital element in politics. This is why despite persistently seeking a government mandate from the people, some leaders are repeatedly defeated at the polls.
More easily said than done
Francois Fillon’s hard-right programme includes a host of radical and disputed policies which are more easily said than done. It includes putting an end to the 35-hour week and enabling firms to negotiate 48-hour working weeks (the maximum allowed under EU law), cutting the number of civil servants by at least 500,000 and public spending by 110 billion euros, raising the retirement age back to 65, cutting company charges by 50 billion euros, raising VAT rates by 3.5 percentage points to a whopping 22%, annulling a law which allows same-sex couples to adopt children, reducing the number of MPs and Senators, banning the burkini and expelling suspected Islamist radicals from the country.
On foreign policy, Fillon, in sharp contrast to the current French position, favours a rapprochement with Russia, Syria and Iran, a lifting of sanctions on Russia imposed in the wake of the annexation of Crimea. He also proposes to cooperate with Vladimir Putin on the question of Syria and favours an alliance with Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad and Russia to eradicate the Islamic State. Yet, Francois Fillon obtained the endorsement of a majority of the 4 million voters who participated in the centre right presidential primaries. Nicolas Sarkozy and Bruno Le Maire, defeated candidates of the first round of the primary, have already pledged to vote for Francois Fillon at the second round of the primary to be held on 27 November.
Francois Fillon triumphantly proclaimed that his hard right policies ‘had resonated with the French people’. He therefore advocated the ‘need for a profound change and transformation of France’.
Sanctions on Russia will not be lifted if the US opposes it. The Fillon labour reforms are on a frontal collision course with the powerful French labour unions. It should be recalled that the limited labour reforms proposed by Francois Hollande had met with widespread protests by labour unions and students earlier in the year across France.
Francois Fillon still has to win the second round of the primary against Alain Juppe who presents a more centrist and less radical programme. Whoever wins the second round will have to contest the presidential elections scheduled in April and May 2017 against the Socialist presidential candidate. Will the hard right programme proposed by Francois Fillon, were he to be the right presidential candidate, make things easier for the Socialist candidate in the context of full-fledged general elections? In any political scenario, the French owe it to the values and ethos of the founding fathers of the French Revolution to thwart the presidential bid of the Front National.
Angst and hangovers
It is becoming more and more evident that instead of lofty considerations of ideology, inclusiveness or solidarity, swathes of voters in the western world are going through the throes of a mixed bag of raw emotions and knee-jerk reactions. These are drawn from their angst, socio-economic difficulties, perceived threats to their cultural identity and their inchoate hangovers in a context of enduring international crisis, weakening world growth prospects, the adverse impact of globalization, trade liberalization and immigration.
The controversial and radical views of Donald Trump and his surprising election as the US President elect have brought the world to attention. Owing to the US global footprint, countries from across the world from the EU to Britain, the signatories of the COP21 Agreement, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Japan, South Korea, China, Turkey, Israel, Australia, Philippines, long standing allies, foreign students hoping to have a post study work permit or refugees are all tuned to Donald Trump’s every action and declaration. The world is profoundly worried as long standing, well established and predictable political, commercial and economic ties have suddenly become unpredictable.
Between the rhetoric of controversial policies and reality, President elect Donald Trump must walk a tightrope. Despite being a Republican, he is aware that the Republican Congress will not endorse all that he proposes. However, he wants to demonstrate to his constituency that he means business and will deliver on at least some of the more radical change of policy proposals announced during the campaign. More fundamentally, will Donald Trump the billionaire businessman be able to efficiently meet the broad spectrum of expectations of the American people and the world during his mandate as a US President?
In his declaration this week about what he intends to do when he takes office in January, Donald Trump announced that the US will quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPPA) trade deal on his first day in the White House. TPPA will be replaced by fair bilateral deals. The TPPA was painstakingly negotiated over 6 years by 12 countries of the Atlantic Rim representing 40% of the world economy.
It was signed in February 2016 in New Zealand but has not yet been ratified. Its aim was to enhance economic ties, boost growth and provide increased market access to the US market through reduced or zero tariffs. For those who have been involved in international trade negotiations, such a decision annuls 6 years of hard work and negotiations. It also puts in question the principle of the continuity of the State irrespective of the government in place.
China who is proposing its own Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal will be the largest beneficiary of the vacuum created by the US exit from TPPA. They will have a field day to grab any opportunity they can find to increase their influence in the region and beyond.
It is worth noting that among the immediate actions envisaged, there is no mention of repealing Obamacare or building a wall on the border with Mexico, announced during the campaign. Trump also declared that in a spirit of national reconciliation, he will not, as declared in the campaign, subject Hilary Clinton to a criminal inquiry. Are we witnessing a salubrious change of tack?
It would be a pity if in a bid to safeguard American interests at all costs, the US were to misguidedly shut themselves behind a protectionist firewall instead of reaching out as before beyond their frontier to bond with and consolidate their long standing ties with countries across the world that have been traditional friends and partners. The problems, angst and difficulties endured by the people cannot be resolved by radical policies and adventurism but by cogent policies to efficiently address and resolve them.
Uncertainty will prevail until the new administration defines in more detailed terms its policies and the guiding principles underpinning them. We have to remain vigilant and assure through deft diplomacy that our export interests and sovereignty rights over Chagos are under all circumstances safeguarded.