THE BLOG

The Age Of Voting Recklessly: Why Populism Is On The Rise

22/06/2017 9:11 AM IST | Updated 22/06/2017 9:11 AM IST
Marko Djurica / Reuters

Whether globalism is in retreat around the world is debatable but election results in the past two years — the Brexit vote, elections in the US, France and now the UK — confirm the observation that voters now love to vote 'recklessly'. By 'reckless' I mean, people aren't afraid of taking risks. They are actually voting for a change and voting against the political establishment. While Barack Obama ran his historic 2008 presidential campaign on themes such as 'Change' and 'Yes We Can', it is actually now that we are seeing people across Europe and the US putting it into practice.

For all the rhetoric, Barack Obama was very much a representative of the mainstream political establishment. However, Donald Trump, who was dismissed by the media as a joke at the start of the primaries and then, simply as "unelectable" went on to beat Hilary Clinton resoundingly. Trump's win changes the dynamics of how people view elections. It was assumed that voters were risk-averse. That they'd elect people with experience to steer the nation in an age where the future is uncertain was the implicit wisdom among the political parties. Trump's ascent to presidency puts that notion to rest. People would vote for anyone, even a political novice, provided he strikes the right chord with the voter and is ready to raise issues such as extremism and immigration that until now were conveniently buried under the carpet of political correctness.

It was only when the primaries morphed into a protracted showdown between Clinton and Sanders that the press started taking him seriously.

Another important takeaway from the US presidential election was the rise of the political maverick Bernie Sanders — a 'social democrat' or, in America's skewed political spectrum, a leftist. His campaign revolved around proposals to make university education free, tax the rich and break the back of the nexus between politicians and the corporate elites. As expected, during the early days of the campaign the mainstream media largely ignored him. It was only when the primaries morphed into a protracted showdown between Clintonand Sanders that the press started taking him seriously. It's worth noting that after the fall of Keynesian economics in the 1970s, pandering to ideas such as universal healthcare and increased taxation could easily kill the chances of an American presidential candidate. Until this election, these ideas were labelled as 'socialist fables' with no takers in a capitalist America. Sanders'srise underlines an important shift in the American polity — the young are no more averse to ideas identified with different political ideology. They're ready to pick and choose what's best for them from the Left, Right and Centre. They want a curb on immigration, free education and social-welfare but at the same time are opposed to government meddling in their private affairs. Enter the age of political agnosticism — the voter is less dogmatic and more pragmatic.

As the results of the US presidential election and the Brexit vote came in, political commentators including this writer assumed that this signaled the rise of right-wing populism. Pundits and psephologists predicted that it was only a matter of time before countries such as France, The Netherlands and Germany would see rabble-rousers heading their respective governments. Until now, results have proven otherwise. Elections in The Netherlands saw the decimation of the far-right populist Geert Wilders. Having thwarted Le Pen's presidential bid, Emmanuel Macron and his one-year old En Marche Party is well on its way to a thumping majority in the French parliament. All these results confirm that there hasn't been some kind of a global rise of the far-Right but rather, the rise of an anti-elitist sentiment across the world.

Corbyn lost to May but even in his loss the face of British politics may have changed for the foreseeable future.

On the surface, the recent snap elections in the UK and the Brexit vote may appear as signs of an ambivalent electorate but, when viewed in conjunction as a pan-European phenomenon, they actually signal the electorate's anti-elitist mood.

Theresa May's plans to build up her parliamentary majority just when the Brexit talks with the EU were to begin was interpreted by many as an attempt to stifle parliamentary dissent and strengthen her own hands under the ruse of gaining leverage over Brussels. The voters, especially the youth, turned out in large numbers and nearly upended the predictions of psephologists.May, who had maintained a 20 point lead over her Labour rival, Jeremy Corbyn as late as May, was disgraced as her Conservativeparty failed to even preserve the thin majority that they had won in the 2015 elections. What astonished many wasn't May's 'national humiliation' but the rise of Corbyn — a leftist pariah for the establishment. Ridiculed by the Right-wing as a cynical old socialist who's too Left-wing to be considered a serious contender for the UK's top-post, Corbyn ran a campaign that inspired the young, people of colour and the white-working class which was instrumental inTrump's ascent on the other side of the Atlantic. In the end, it wasn't enough. Corbyn lost to May but even in his loss the face of British politics may have changed for the foreseeable future. He has redefined populism for good which was until now considered as a canker. That you can actually win votes across disparate social groups without sowing seeds of discord has been the biggest takeaway from Corbyn'scampaign.

People are fed up with their leaders' pep talk on globalism.

People are fed up with their leaders' pep talk on globalism. They fulminate at the disconnected leaders of 'elitist' organizations such as the EU and the UN. They balk at the idea of international organizations and their secret liaison with their governments. They suspect that these organizations are furthering the agenda of the rich in the name of globalism and an interconnected world, even when jobs are drying up and automation is ruthlessly mowing what's left. They've seen the profits of multinationals swell over the decades and their own job security wane in proportion. Their leaders remained mute as the rights of the workers was slowly muzzled in the name of free trade and social-welfare provisions obliterated. Expecting that this disgruntled lot would appreciate that climate change is the biggest problem facing humanity is nothing but, vanity on the part of the political establishment. Now, the voters are sending them an unambiguous message. The rise of mavericks such as Trump, Corbyn and Macron is a lesson for the political establishment throughout the world. The subtext is clear — ignore the voter at your own peril.

More On This Topic

SPONSORED