Electoral Trends

Rightward Ho!

Sunday 3 November 2002, by France-Isabelle LANGLOIS

The recent election of the left-leaning Union Activist Lula in Brazil seems to be the exception that proves the rule. Everywhere else in Europe and the Americas, the right is sweeping elections. From Bush to Berlusconi, via Mario Dumont, why are voters shifting so far toward the right?

With the help of the Republican majority on the US Supreme Court, George W. Bush took office on a rainy day in January 2001. Not worried about the fact that more Americans voted for Al Gore, he proceeded to embark on a series of measures that would have made Ronald Reagan blush. Then came 9/11. A little more then a year later, that rainy day seems like a distant memory, and the Bush administration’s policies are more to the right than anyone could have even begun to imagine. The White House manipulated September 11 into their personal green light to conduct any kind of war they wanted and also to restrict dissent via the curtailing of civil liberties.

Et Tu Europe?

That very same autumn, Italians elected press baron and ultra-rightist, Silvio Berlusconi. In 1999, the far-right Freedom Party, with Nazi sympathiser Jorg Haider at the helm, garnered 26.9 % of the Austrian vote and formed part of the ruling coalition.

The details of the French election are hard to forget, but it is worth remembering that the defeat of LePen was hardly a victory, and that Chirac, with the elimination of his socialist Prime Minister Jospin, now has free-reign to dollop out his right wing policies.

Even liberal Holland gave rise to the populist Pim Fortuyn. Fortuym, whose speeches were peppered with racist and anti-Semitic overtones, was assassinated just before the Dutch went to the polls. Nevertheless, his party placed third in the elections and formed part of the governing coalition. However, the victory may prove to be short-lived with the recent break-up of the coalition. A new round of elections is scheduled for January 2003.

Lesser know examples include recent elections in Scandinavia, Greece and Spain.

Canada: Better Late than Never…

In Canada, the right is also advancing. On the Federal scene, no one really expects the Liberals to lose the next elections. Nevertheless, the Alliance, with a new leader in place, is still a force to be reckoned with and the next elections could bring a minority government. The NDP is in an often-overlooked leadership race, and they are a long way from being seen as a credible alternative. For the moment at least, the ever further right-leaning Liberal party seems to be the only party that has a chance of winning - a situation that does not sit well with Canada’s progressive community.

In Quebec, the political landscape is even more worrisome. Until this spring, The Action Démocratique du Québec Party (ADQ), having been ignored by the media - and more or less everyone else - had slowly but surely making headway. That was until the spring by-elections where the ADQ surprised everyone by winning three out of four seats. Not only did the ADQ increase its parliamentary presence fourfold, but since then, the media have been playing up the ADQ cause and survey after survey is predicting that the ADQ will form the next government.

From the traditional right to the hard right, from Fascist to populist, the rise of the right forces us to ask some serious questions. Like, Why? And who is voting for them? The situation is such that the right is not only taking votes away from the left, but increasingly sees the left as non-entity - the threat of the extreme-right is of more concern than the left.

Stepping Back

According to political scientist and author Jean-Yves Camus, "we are seeing an atypical extreme right... these new extremists represent a strong reaction against the traditional right’s position on issues like globalization and social policy. The left, by alienating itself from most of society, and by governing via self-perpetuating elites who are locked in to their technocratic and bureaucratic language, has to take responsibility for the left/right cleavage. The left needs to start thinking about how to put the State back in to the forefront of the debate".

In other words, the left is not receiving the votes they normally do when voters want to protest current policies. This is confirmed by the rise in spoiled and blank ballots throughout the Western world. Bernard Dreano, president of the French international solidarity organisation CEDITIM, argues that the fact that 1/3 of the ballots in the first round of the French elections were cast for no one, is indicative of the fact that many voters are voting against the system. "The problem for the left is that voters are no longer turning to them when looking for a channel in which to channel their frustration."

It seems like the same phenomena are happening in Quebec. By voting for the ADQ, Quebecers are protesting against the current system. Even though 50 % of Quebecers say they are planning on voting for the ADQ, and in the same breath, they also tell pollsters they don’t know any of the ADQ’s platforms and are incapable of naming any candidates except Mario Dumont.

According to Quebec journalist Gil Courtemanche, "when asking who voted for LePen? The answer is surprising: Blue-collar workers and others who traditionally voted left wing, even those who voted for the Communist Party. So who is driving the Dumont euphoria? According to surveys, blue collar Francophones who used to vote for the PQ. A curious coincidence. One should not jump to conclusions - Dumont is not LePen, but populism is populism and it wins the day when progressives lose touch with their natural audience. The right also exists everywhere in the world, and its simple solutions gain credence in uncertain times."

The left has no other choice but to begin calling into question its actions and to start redefining itself. Something that is already underway. But time is running out...

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