Much of the pessimism surrounding politics in 2016 can be boiled down to two things: the highly publicised deaths of numerous celebrities and the failure of political opposition. Whilst the Grim Reaper isn’t willing to swap Snapchat for David Bowie (I checked), we can take a look at why political opposition around the world is currently so ineffective.
Whilst Pmp’s Hannah Spencer has discussed opposition to Uber (in Austin) and we will have more on that front soon, it’s time for the Elections desk to take a look at what on earth is happening to political/parliamentary opposition across the world. We don’t have the space or time to talk about every country, so I have selected a fairly Western range of countries and have notably left out Turkey and the USA: they need dedicated articles of their own.
With that said, can opposition be done right?
The UK has a parliamentary system struggling to emerge from the two-party system which has dominated politics since the 1920s. This system sees Labour as the ‘default’ parliamentary opposition, yet even the party’s MPs are notoriously divided.
The problems are deep-seated yet fairly simple: centre/right-of-centre ‘Blairites’ can’t agree with the party’s left-leaning members. Many of Labour’s ½ million plus members prefer the latter group (represented by Jeremy Corbyn) whilst most of their 230 MPs prefer centrist Owen Smith only makes the issue harder to resolve.
This is not to pick a side or ignore the party’s diversity in favour of a convenient binary. Much of the their past success has come from uniting the infamously fractured British left. Despite a succession of resignations, unpopular policies and publicised back-stabbing within the Conservative government, the UK has been left with little effective political opposition to rally behind.
Other democracies are in similar trouble too, with little effective opposition…
SPAIN has had election problems for almost a year now, ever since the December 2015 and June 2016 elections failed to produce a conclusive result.
Popular opposition parties Podemos and Ciudadanos emerged seemingly from nowhere and grew rapidly over the last two years. Either could have held the balance of power. However, the two parties have now fallen to ‘only’ 21% and 12% of the Spanish vote respectively, a more depressing reality than the pioneering 15-M grassroots movement ever envisioned in 2011.
ICELAND has had more success, after the government fell (thanks to last year’s Panama Papers scandal. Their increasingly famous Pirate Party is becoming a serious parliamentary contender. Projected to gain around ⅓ of the country’s available seats in October elections, the party appears more serious and legitimate than ever, slowly crystallising its views on a range of more realistic policies.
IRELAND has shown how successful opposition can work, after these year’s elections shook the ROI’s two-party system to its core. The Irish Dáil had been dominated by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil since the 1930s, but neither party could form a government. Proportional representation in Eire has succeeded in giving Sinn Fein, independents and many smaller parties the ability to have a fair and even say in Irish affairs.
HONG KONG has seen some success, with 30 pro-democracy candidates recently elected to its ‘LegCo’ (Legislative Council). Many of them were orchestrators of the 2014 Umbrella Protests, including Hong Kong’s youngest ever legislator, Nathan Law. Whilst Hong Kong’s political situation is fairly unique, these elections do represent a step forward for increasingly cohesive, progressive opposition in the country.
FRANCE also has a successful opposition brewing: the ruling Parti Socialiste and their leader, French President Francois Hollande are incredibly unpopular, as this year’s municipal elections demonstrated. However, that opposition is unfortunately dominated by Marine Le-Pen, leader of the far-right Front National.
Still worried by attacks in Nice and Paris, many French citizens see a strong figure in Le Pen. Many in areas like Cannes with infamous ‘burkini’ bans see Le Pen as the candidate whose negative views on Islam and migrants aligns with their own. Thankfully, these ‘burkini bans’ have now been lifted; one successful example of opposition.
France is hardly the only country with a growing far-right opposition: take a look at the growth of such groups in Germany, or Trump’s success in the USA. That said, despite the problems in Western nations like the UK and Spain, smaller nations like Iceland, Ireland and Hong Kong show that successful opposition is possible.