European Electoral Postmortems
by Stephen Lendman
The morning after election Sunday, French and Greek voters have major issues unresolved. Austerity harmed people in both countries. Technocrats remain in charge. Odds remain long for change.
Europe’s recession is deepening. Every stimulus attempt failed. Budget cutting during crisis conditions makes hard times worse. Throwing out bums for new ones assures similar ones.
European governments fell like dominos. Since crisis conditions began, over a dozen regime changes followed. Thirteen Eurozone ones collapsed, were voted out of power, or were ordered out by banker diktats. Left or right made no difference.
The Dutch government resigned. No confidence votes toppled Romania and Czech Republic leaders. Minority governments lead Sweden and Bulgaria.
An unnamed European diplomat said we’ll “have to get used to new faces and ideas all the time.” Unity, leadership and vision are absent.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso wants EU sovereignty replaced by Commission leaders controlling economic decision-making to harden austerity harshness. Voters reject the idea. Throw the bums out followed before and will again.
Spain replaced socialists for conservatives. Both parties follow similar policies. Italy dumped pro-business elected prime minister Silvio Berlusconi for unelected Mario Monte. Greece followed suit. Unelected Lucas Papademos replaced elected George Papandreou.
Conservative David Cameron succeeded Labour’s Gordon Brown. Portugal’s Jose Socrates fell from grace. So did governments in Denmark and Finland. Germany’s Angela Merkel faces reelection next year. Will she go next?
On Sunday, Schleswig-Holstein voters ousted Christian Democrats. Doing so set the tone for next week’s North Rhine-Westphalia election. It also portends what Merkel fears next year.
Voters reject austerity. Why not when they’re harmed most. Leaders force-feeding it are rejected.
New faces replace old ones. Everything changes but stays the same. So-called reforms make things worse. Europe’s “fiscal pact” is in disarray.
French voters chose Francois Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy. Voter turnout topped 80%. US voter participation hasn’t topped 70% since 1900. It didn’t exceed 60% after 1968. Anti-war sentiment drove it. It faintly registers now despite polls showing Americans want Washington’s Afghanistan involvement ended.
Voters demand one thing. Politicians deliver another. In 2007, Sarkozy swept to power promising change. He left office with France’s lowest approval rating in decades. At one point, he scored lowest ever.
He’s reviled. He pledged one thing and did another. He serves wealth and power alone. He deplores worker rights. He supports reduced labor costs and layoffs. During his tenure, over 1.4 million lost jobs. Many were high-paying ones.
Hollande’s victory reflected anti-Sarkozy sentiment. Voters saw little difference between them. Austerity remains policy. Rhetoric signaled otherwise. Reality will arrive when a new “dimension of growth, jobs, prosperity, and (better) future” becomes same old same old.
Hollande’s fiscal program is corporate friendly. Constrained under Eurozone rules, he has little choice. Structural reforms will continue. Rhetoric is anti-austerity but policy affirms it.
Expect more social cuts, lost jobs, and other right-wing measures. Despite saying French troops will leave Afghanistan this year, France will stay partnered with imperial Washington.
Franco/German relations won’t change. Renegotiating austerity reflects continuity, not new direction policies. German Foreign Secretary Guido Westerwelle said:
“We will work together for a European growth pact on Sunday….We must add a new impulsion for growth, which requires structural reforms.”
In other words, expect greater harshness. Voters demand policies helping them. Neither candidate aroused enthusiasm. Sarkozy’s unpopularity put Hollande 24 points up initially. It dwindled to a narrow Sunday victory.
If campaigning continued much longer, he could have lost. On June 10 and 17, legislative elections follow. Results won’t turn austerity into worker-friendly populism.
French Voters faced a Hobson’s choice. They were damned whichever way they went. National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen called both candidates “political Siamese twins.” She voted “blank.”
Expect Main Street France to chafe under Hollande like Sarkozy. At issue is how long they’ll need to find out and whether they’ll react more strongly.
Greek Voters Reject Austerity
On Sunday, public anger rousted PASOK and New Democracy, Greece’s two dominant parties. Together, only 35% of voters supported them. Since 2009, social democratic PASOK dropped from 43.9% to 15.5%. Conservative New Democracy fell from 33.5% to 20%.
Both parties fell one vote short of enough for majority coalition governing authority. An anti-democratic provision got them that close. New Democracy won the highest voter total. As a result, it automatically got an additional 50 seats not won.
Public anger rejected Greek politics. A record 40% of voters abstained. Crushing wage, benefit, and social cuts, as well as unemployment created mass impoverishment, homelessness, and human suffering.
Ordinary people have three choices – leave, starve or rebel. So far, anger’s been restricted to street protests, throwing the bums out, or abstaining.
Parties rhetorically opposing austerity scored best. The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) tripled its vote from 4.6 to 16.8%. In 2010, Greece’s Democratic Left split from SYRIZA. It got 5%. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) received 8.5%. Greek Greens and Democratic Alliance each won 3%. Right-wing parties scored poorly overall.
SYRIZA promised increased social and infrastructure spending. Follow-through’s another issue. Eurozone rules prevent real change. So don’t ruling elites and business friendly labor bosses.
A SYRIZA-led government may be too weak to survive. Perhaps right-wing coalition authority will replace it. Either way, business as usual leaves little wiggle room for change. Austerity policies will continue. Expect new ones to follow. So will greater pain.
Revolutionary change requires freedom from Eurozone rules or rebellion. If elections don’t help, tug-o-war debates may decide.
If pain exceeds thresholds of no return, all bets are off. People only take so much for so long. Explosive public anger follows. Greece is a tinder box of rage. Electoral failure this time may ignite it.
A Final Comment
Last March, Russian voters overwhelmingly elected Putin with 63.6% of the vote. He got a clear third term mandate. In 2004, he won 71%.
In 2008, he stepped down. Russia’s Constitution prohibits three consecutive terms. Dmitry Medvedev succeeded him. Putin served as prime minister.
On May 7, an elaborate inauguration began his third term. He’s eligible for another in 2018. “We are entering a new stage of national development,” he said. “We want to live in a democratic country…in a successful Russia.”
“I will do my best to justify the trust of millions of our citizens. I think it is the meaning of my whole life, and it is my duty to serve our country, serve our people.”
“This support encourages me and inspires me and helps me address the most difficult tasks. We have passed a long and difficult road together.”
Outgoing president Dmitry Medvedev spoke first. Putin appointed him prime minister. Around 3,000 guests attended. Pomp and ceremony came with them.
Now the hard work begins. “Putin needs to be strong,” said Russian political scientist Vladimir Pastukhov. “Otherwise, there will be 12,000 knives to his back the next day.”
He returns during hard times. Center for Political Technologies managing director Boris Makarenko said:
“He left at the peak of economic growth and optimism about increasing prosperity. Now he will be cautious, conflicted.”
“He understands that the development of Russia and the economy requires independent actors in business and public life, but at the same time he feels the need from his KGB years to keep everything under control.”
Confrontations with Washington lie ahead. Like Medvedev, Putin opposes regime change in Syria and Iran. He’s outspoken against US imperial interventionism.
In 2007, he condemned Washington’s quest for unipolar global dominance “through a system which has nothing to do with democracy.”
He’s rightfully concerned about US bases encircling Russia, as well as encroaching offensive missile defense systems.
On May 2, Russia’s armed forces Chief of the General Staff and First Deputy Defense Minister threatened preemptive attacks on US Polish and other Eastern Europe sites.
As president, Putin is supreme commander-in-chief in charge of military and foreign policy, especially national security matters. He can order them. An interesting six years lie ahead. Serving Russia well won’t be easy.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.