The Spring of Elections and Democratic Discontent

by Probir Kumar Sarkar

In the American election later this year, voters will encounter a completely different political landscape from that of the presidential election four years ago. In the interim, millions of American jobs dried up as factories, businesses, banks, and financial institutions fell to their knees. Home foreclosures only increased as the housing market fell.

In 2004, the Democrats leveraged against Bush his use of 9/11 sentiment as a political asset; those same Democrats are now counting among their cards Obama having killed Osama Bin Laden and helped bring down Muammar Qaddafi. The Arab Spring brought solace to much of the Arab World, but the American public faced only a severe winter at home with high gas prices and fewer jobs amid shrinking economic activity.

Presidential-hopeful Mitt Romney’s campaign adviser Richard Williamson warned Americans that developments in North Korea, continued unrest in Syria, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions signal an unraveling of President Obama’s foreign policy, likening it to the troubled last months of the Carter administration.

In Russia, Vladimir Putin’s return to presidency on May 7 marks no surprise. As if the show had been staged all along, Dmitry Medvedev demonstrated only his loyalty to Putin rather than true leadership in the transition. Russia has been on the path to resurgence since Putin took over presidency in 1999. He streamlined a broken and chaotic Russia in an attempt to re-create Soviet-style leadership. He has extended both financial and military influence over the former satellite states and contested NATO and European affairs. After two successful terms of presidency, Putin stepped down in 2008 rather than violate the constitutional ban on serving more than two consecutive terms. In December of last year, Russian protesters flocked to the streets against Putin’s rigged third election after the gap term he gave to Medvedev.

During his first presidential term, Putin implemented Soviet-style political and military tactics and introduced a comprehensive series of reforms that recentralized the economy. Even after stepping down from power, Putin’s rule continued through Medvedev and a style of loyalty based on keeping a corrupt architect intact. It became obvious that he was never really unseated as Russia’s leader even during Medvedev’s presidency. On the international front, however, Russia will have to modify its tactics in light of the changes in Europe exemplified by the French presidential election.

Though Putin’s latest victory was narrow, political stagnation in Russia was in many ways expected. The trend of losses for the incumbent European leaders of France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and other European members, however, will reshape the European political landscape with consequences that could be far more dangerous than the ongoing financial debacle.

The European Union is not merely an international arrangement, but a concerted effort to bring diverse nations into a single enterprise over the debris of historic nationalism and wartime horrors. Racial and ethnic tensions coupled with economic austerity and a sense of betrayal are reflected in the current elections as new political forces emerge, replacing the old ones who dreamt of a unified Europe. If the situation worsens, the European Union could fragment.

In Greece, elections on May 6 shook markets around the world, fearful that a country suddenly thrust into political chaos won’t be able to pay its crushing debts and may even abandon the euro. Both the Greek and French election results have raised serious doubts over the future of austerity practices in the eurozone. Socialist Francois Hollande has seen how pushing through growth-stimulation policies and negotiating a European treaty to restore budget discipline with German Chancellor Angela Merkel treated his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy at the polls.

The E.U. turns to a ‘socialist program’ as European leaders have faced a voter reality-check this election season. Bailouts and austerity-measures have crippled European policy and will lead only to more turmoil if new measures cannot be swiftly agreed upon. In order to maintain economic security, the elect of this year will need to exercise great caution balancing the demands of voters with those of the new global economy.

Mr. Sarkar is a senior international journalist and the Executive Editor at The Global Intelligence.

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