(non-investing post so skip it if you aren't interested in politics)
Often, but not always, large upheavel in politics occur during economic downturns. One of the big question marks in my mind is the impact of the current recession and the financial crisis on politics. My big concern is the potential for the collapse of the Chinese government. But coming closer to home, we have seen a shift to the left in America, with huge gains for the Democrats. Of course, one can never be sure what is driving change but I suspect the economic performance of the Republicans in the last term, possibly along with the Iraqi war (although Americans still seem to be heavily in favour of the war and it wasn't a major issue during elections.)
Well, another part of the world is seeing some change, although it isn't as big as it appears. In Europe, voters have shifted their votes towards the far-right. Roughly speaking, the left lost votes, the moderate right stayed flat, and, for the first time, the far-right gained a sizeable number of seats. The Globe & Mail reports on the outcome:
In a startling flight to the fringes, the European Union's 490-million citizens sent an amazing range of angry, racist, anti-European, anti-immigrant, separatist, protest and far-right parties and candidates to represent them in Brussels, a ragtag protest vote that now represents more than 16 per cent of the European Parliament.
At a time when European countries from France to Greece have been riven with protests and strikes against the devastation caused by the credit crisis, and unemployment is soaring across the continent, the vote marked a humiliating trouncing for such mighty forces of the left as Germany's Social Democrats, France's Socialists, Spain's governing PSOE and especially Britain's governing Labour Party, all of whom saw their lowest poll results in the parliament's 30-year history of elections.
Britain's Labour Party fell to third-place status, with only 15 per cent of the vote, behind the far-right, anti-Europe UK Independence Party, a result that deepened Prime Minister Gordon Brown's leadership crisis and led another cabinet minister to resign Monday.
Parties and coalitions of the right, such as those of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel did very well, turning their European parliament bloc, the European People's Party, into a powerhouse with 36 per cent of the vote. And Britain's Conservative leader David Cameron, who won his country's biggest share of the seats by a wide margin, is planning on shifting his party into a further-right, anti-Europe coalition, moving the legislature's centre of gravity hard to the right.
The Labour Party in Britain is facing huge problems and I think it will have a hard time over the next decade. In addition to political problems (over MP spending, leadership, etc), Britain is facing serious economic problems. Britain had a bigger real estate bubble than America and some of its mega-banks are in far worse shape than the American banks.
The biggest surprise, one that the mainstream media is attributing as a protest vote, are the huge gains by the far right:
So the legislature now contains, for the first time ever, members of the British National Party, which forbids blacks from being members and calls for the “voluntary” repatriation of anyone descended from immigrants. They won two seats, both in northern England, despite a joint effort by all of Britain's mainstream parties to keep them out.
They'll be sitting alongside the Freedom Party of Dutch firebrand Geert Wilders, a party increasingly devoted to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant agitation, which came second in the Netherlands with 4 seats. Austria's extremist Freedom Party, Hungary's fascist Jobbik Party, and Denmark's DVP, an extreme right-wing party, had record results, and Italy's fascist Northern League won a strong eight seats.
And anti-Europe parties, which believe that the Parliament in which they sit should not exist and the EU should be abolished, also did extremely well. Britain's United Kingdom Independence Party, which wants the EU abolished and immigration ended, outpolled the governing Labour Party with 13 seats, and Finland's anti-Europe True Finns captured 13 per cent of the vote.
Most of the far-right and anti-immigrant parties also hold anti-EU platforms, and together with the two major anti-Europe coalitions, Union for a Europe of the Nations and Independence and Democracy, at least 121 of the 736 seats are now held by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who do not believe the parliament should exist.
It remains to be seen how the European Parliament will perform given how a sizeable chunk of the elected members are anti-EU and favour dissolving the parliament. I'm not sure what the far-right parties will attempt but I suspect they will probably try to pass laws limiting immigration and expelling immigrants they don't like.
Having said all this, the European Parliament is largely symbolic and has little power to do anything.
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- Sivaram Velauthapillai
(non-investing post so skip it if you aren't interested in politics)