Of Western Values, French Elections and Pakistan

By Jan Arden

French elections: Déjà vu all over again. Pic – Al Jazeera

As the horrifying war in Ukraine continues to drag on, we have made the point here, as often expressed elsewhere: The West should not apologize for the fact that it is a community of democratic spaces, defined by rules and values. But that in itself imposes a heavy responsibility to behave like one.

Over the years, EU governments have subsumed that their foreign policy is all about good intentions, which others should take at face value. Let us leave aside that, having plundered much of colonial riches and enrolled the world in their 20th century wars, they now generously provide “aid” to uplift scarred economies and countries. But those mindful of legitimacy and international norms point to numerous cases where double standards irrigate contemporary Western policy, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Of course, the US and EU governments will never indict themselves for double standards, hypocrisy and transgressions of international law, either in their military interventions in Africa, former Yugoslavia or in the Middle East. In our region, undoubtedly, the EU has been a major sustained contributor to our economic development, if only through stabilized sugar prices, preferential market access for our budding textile industries or through tourism inflows.

Now, more than ever perhaps, we need the West and other regional powers like India as stabilizing forces in our immediate spheres and in the Indian Ocean. But we cannot fail to ask whether the high moral ground of “democratic rules and values” in international relations, which we too cherish, are being upheld by the continued Anglo-Saxon imperial dismissal of the Chagos resolutions at the UN General Assembly and the continued British Indian Ocean Territory illegality?

Western democratic values which the vast majority of Mauritians share, or the moral high ground cannot be simply subsumed and have to be demonstrably clear and consistent over time and regions.

* * *

French elections

As recently as in 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron had called for ‘a new architecture based on trust and security in Europe’, perhaps as a counterpoint to US and NATO-led expansionist drive aiming to rope all Russian border states into a nuclear encirclement policy. That increasing “good neighbourliness”, expanding trade opportunities and the immense dependence of Western Europe on Russian gas and energy pipelines, would be more effective approaches to tame the “grizzly bear” and keep war out of European soils, have been a recurring theme of Gaullian foreign policy and, we may add, a reciprocated one by Russia since the 1990s.

Both the French and Russian appeals failed to elicit EU consensus as the way forward, partly because several, including the newly-admitted former Eastern bloc countries, shared a different view of their uncomfortable Russian proximity and desired greater, not less of the NATO-US umbrella. The NATO hawks and generals have some responsibility in dragging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky out of his depth and pushing Putin’s Russia one bridge too far.

Whether Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are all sub-groups of a single Caucasian civilization or not, we cannot say but clearly this view finds comfort with two sets of countries: those with important Orthodox Catholic populations (e.g. Greece or Serbia) and far-right movements/parties in Western Europe, including in Austria, France, Germany and Italy. Marine Le Pen, now France’s far-right challenger to President Macron in round two of French presidential elections, has been repeatedly dogged by accusations of secret Putin funding and sympathies. Eric Zemmour, while at one time racing Marine Le Pen to the 2nd round challenger spot, saw his candidacy explode in mid-air, largely thanks to his similar dubious Russian funding sources, a rather narrow thematic (immigration and French national identity at threat) that offered only confusing solutions to complex migratory issues and some totally insensitive remarks on welcoming Ukrainian refugees or not.

In the meantime, the Le Pen team had selected their ground carefully and, undeterred by the Ukraine crisis, stuck to their guns about protecting the country, the economy and the weaker sections of society, those most battered in the aftermath of the pandemic and the Ukraine conflict. The President found himself in her populist firing range when he was already being lambasted as a “Président des riches” by the left’s most articulate debater, Jean-Luc Melenchon. The latter and his radical left proposals earned a very commendable third place at almost 22% of first round voters and he could easily have displaced Le Pen for challenger spot had minor parties (PS, Les Verts, others) kept out of the fray or even backed his candidacy.

As for Marine Le Pen, she will continue to try and straddle leftist economic populism with right-wing cultural and national identity policies, and will now be hard at work over the intervening fortnight to seduce both Valérie Pécresse and Eric Zemmour electors on the broad right and Jean-Luc Melenchon electors on the left. The double Macron-Le Pen race for those who abstained and for those electors who eluded them and a widely awaited TV debate between the two punchers will undoubtedly prove determinant in what many may consider as an uninspiring remake of the 2017 elections, albeit a closer contest, but one that could lead to the same outcome, as France chooses its President on 24th April. Current polls indicate President Macron winning at some 52-54% of voter support, but he will take nothing for granted in what will be a far closer tussle than in 2017 when Marine Le Pen, flailing in the telecast debate, ended up scoring barely 34%.

Both contenders today, with the added bonus of experience, have to weigh and sometimes negotiate the support of personalities and parties without tying themselves too much, but such give-and-take is normal for alliances and seat sharing towards the legislative elections to follow in the steps of the Presidential. In that respect, a sitting President with a reasonably structured party and presence at local levels, has obviously some advantage over his opponent. Both the 24th April mandate and the legislative elections to follow rapidly, will therefore determine the incoming President’s actual control over the country’s major policy orientations, both internal and external, for the next five years.

* * *

Pakistan: what now?

We cannot escape the high drama that held most Pakistanis grasping their TV and internet seats or rushing onto the streets as the Opposition forces to PM Imran Khan had the latter cornered with a no-confidence motion that looked to have secured the necessary numbers for a historic first ouster by a democratic vote as per its Constitutional provisions. The successive attempts by the cricketeer turned politician to avoid such a calamitous fate were in the end to no avail and the ax fell in a midnight vote on Sunday in its National Parliament.

PM Khan was properly ousted, the younger brother of former PM Nawaz Sharif, Shebaz, was elected as PM and on Monday took his oath. He takes over a country that is tottering on financial bankruptcy, relying on foreign loans from one willing source to repay interests on another, and that has remained in the IMF grey list for several years, making loans from international banking institutions costlier and trickier.

The former PM Khan had once estimated that the country harboured some 40,000 terrorists and affiliates, mostly cajoled by the Army deep state, which he was therefore thoroughly incapable or unwilling to take to task. By all standards, Khan was prone to the most unexpected foreign affairs gaffes, like trying to bite the Saudi hand that fed him a lifeline, or attempting a showdown with the Army chief Bajwa, who is reported to have brought him to office after ejecting Nawaz Sharif.

As for Imran Khan jetting off to Moscow on the day of Putin’s invasion or the hilarious conspiracy based on what sounds as a simple diplomatic cable, dozens of which are probably received every week in Islamabad, they would certainly not attract international conspiracies to eject a PM who was heading for a historic ouster in his own Parliament. After all, whatever politicians tend to say there, all foreign capitals know the real power lies with the Army and its powerful secret service which can sabotage any move to normalize relations say with India without its indispensable nod.

The political status quo also has immense benefits for the Army’s budget and annual arms purchases, which are totally outside the scope of parliamentary scrutiny. The question then is how much inflection within those parameters can a PM, whether Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Shebaz Sharif now, wield for India to take seriously overtures from the Pakistani political brass, even when well-meaning. In that limited sense, Naya or Purana makes no difference.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 15 April 2022

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