2016-04-14 By Harald Malmgren
2016 is a year of political disorder in many nations.
Long established political parties are suffering fragmentation and leadership disputes.
In some nations new parties are forming and gaining momentum.
In others fringe parties are gaining traction and emerging as mainstream challengers.
Voter frustration and discontent seem to be surfacing in both rich countries and poor.
As a reminder, the list of politically turbulent countries includes several European nations including Ireland, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal and even Germany.
The upcoming UK referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU or exit is not only being closely watched by UK citizens but throughout Europe.
(Present polling indicates public opinion tilting towards exit, opposing Prime Minister Cameron’s preference to retain EU membership).
Political cohesion of other EU members is being tested as regions or sub-cultures seek greater autonomy or even independence.
Catalonia’s current effort to secede from Spain is but one example.
Increasing separation of budgets between Flemings and Walloons in Belgium, and rising separation demands another example.
The growing crisis of refugees from Syria and North Africa is weakening political connections among Continental European governments and their citizenries.
A visible split has emerged between Chancellor Merkel and a wide swath of Germany’s population and its regional governments regarding the degree to which Germany should open its arms to Middle East refugees.
The historic Schengen Agreement providing for open borders among EU members is being ruptured by refugee security and economic risks as ordinary citizens demand restoration of border controls and limits to entry from neighboring EU member countries.
A voter demand for stricter immigration controls has become a key issue in the UK debate over possible exit from the EU.
The continuing Greek crisis is again threatening political relations among Eurozone members and institutional relations between the Eurozone and the IMF. Rifts are again widening over the balance between ECB monetary policy, EU and Eurozone austerity fiscal policies, and financial market regulation.
The French are effectively ignoring EU budget restraints, and Germans are delaying the pace of financial market unification, as anti-Brussels and anti-Euro sentiments grow in both France and Germany.
The credibility of ECB stimulus measures is waning not only within financial markets but among the general Eurozone public.
The criminal behavior of many recent refugees in several Western European nations is also generating physical backlash from residents and collapse of ordinary police functions.
Sweden’s entire system of national and local governance is being stressed to the point that incidents of abdication of authority at the local level are occurring.
Japan’s political leadership is not yet challenged, but elections lie ahead and its fragile economy is generating growing discontent among the citizenry.
Credibility of Abenomics has fallen markedly.
Public confidence in the Bank of Japan, the Government Pension Investment Fund and other retirement mechanisms is crumbling.
Capital flight from China to Japan has benefited the economy but has also helped to strengthen the Yen, which is damaging international competitiveness of the corporate sector.
The corporate outlook has been hurt by a stronger Yen and global economic slowdown, so large Japanese corporations are resisting broad wage increases that are needed to lift domestic consumption after years of income stagnation.
Among the emerging markets the BRIC’s are all in varying stages of political or economic deterioration.
Brazil’s entire government appears to be in chaos or paralysis as growing evidence appears of pervasive corruption at its highest levels.
President Roussef is likely to be impeached, throwing into confusion prospects for alternative political leadership. Prime Minister Modi’s political grip seems to be weakening in India.
Putin’s political national approval level remains strong among the Russian people, but business leaders are restive and increasingly critical of excessive Russian military adventurism and breakdown of business ties with Western Europe.
Growing visibility of Minister of Defense General Shoigu domestically and internationally suggests Putin’s need for greater support of the military in the balance of competing powers in Russia.
Also, Putin recently decided to create a new, consolidated domestic military force and appointed Viktor Zolotov, his former personal security head, to lead it.
The Russian official description of the duties of the new domestic security force is to curtail domestic terrorism and corruption, but concerns are growing that the new force will be used to suppress domestic political critics by a new army directly reporting to Putin in the months ahead prior to the next national elections.
Even the hard solidity of the Chinese centralized Communist Party political power structure has recently been showing cracks.
The frequency of worker demonstrations has accelerated, along with rising job losses or long periods of no pay for work done.
Academics are showing unhappiness with Party-generated limitations on what they can teach, and how. There seems to be quietly rising discontent about China’s new external assertiveness and risky diversion of attention from needed domestic economic action.
Unease among party members seems to be surfacing.
Questions have bubbled up into public of whether Xi has gone too far in creating a cult of personality and infallibility, allegedly to place himself beyond criticism even from his supporters.
Two recent public challenges to XI appear to have generated extraordinary concerns.
One was appearance on the internet of an open letter urging Xi’s resignation, said to be authored by members of elite leadership circles. This letter generated a disproportionately aggressive response from State security personnel in widespread efforts to identify and hunt down the authors. ()
The other, perhaps more ominous challenge to Xi, or perhaps to Communist Party leadership in general, came in the form of an essay that appeared on the official website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
This is the agency that pursues corruption by public officials and disloyalty to leadership. CCDI’s chief is Wang Qishan, widely known and widely feared throughout China as Xi’s personal enforcer.
This essay, “A Thousand Yes-Men Cannot Equal One Honest Advisor” was also translated into English. It is considered to be an “act of remonstrance”, which is a form of warning to the Party leader from his own supporters.
(In history such an act of remonstrance is considered to place the authors at risk, but serious enough to make thoughtful consideration desirable.)
This essay posted on the CCDI website has since been taken down.
It includes reference to 16 specific policies that may have become controversial among high Party circles. Subjects mentioned include “one country, two systems policy”, foreign policy aggressiveness, cult of personality, and Party control of media. Strangely the essay also includes concerns for safety and wellbeing of Xi and his family. Some foreign experts on China believe this essay may indicate areas of likely policy reconsideration priorities in the not distant future.
With regard to the United States, the turbulence in American politics and apparent rise of populism and nationalism among voters is shocking both the Democratic and the Republican Party leaderships.
Both major parties are experiencing widening divisions of political opinion to an extent not experienced in many decades.
While it is likely Republicans will retain majority control of the House of Representatives in November national elections, there is growing uncertainty about which party will be in control of the Senate. This uncertainty by itself generates uncertainty about taxation, immigration, environment, business and labor regulations and direction of thinking in the nation’s state and federal courts.
Critical questions about the boundaries of Presidential power may have to be decided after elections by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), with one or more vacancies to be appointed by the next President.
Mainstream media continues to oversimplify the current competition within each party for nomination of a candidate for President.
The long, elaborate, complex process of state primaries gets continuous intense news attention.
As is known throughout the world, Donald Trump has taken a lead among Republican Party primaries. Trump’s rise is presented as a rebellion against the “established” political structure nationally and locally.
Trump was able to identify and exploit growing dissatisfaction of ordinary people with continuing weakness of the economy and job opportunities. The majority of the nation’s population has been mired in stagnation and even decline in incomes since the start of the Great Financial Crisis. In essence median incomes have fallen 4% since the start of the Obama Administration.
The public doesn’t focus blame on President Obama, but rather on failure of the entire government under the President and Congress.
In many polls, Congress is more disliked than the President or his Cabinet.
Ideological divisions have widened between the two major parties, but also within each party.
Since the introduction of TV to all Congressional deliberations, including committees and subcommittees, members of Congress have grown accustomed to delivering speeches to their own state and local constituencies, rarely attentive to the speeches and legislative initiatives made by each other.
Bipartisan teamwork which long prevailed in the background in Congressional work has been abandoned in favor of focusing on and resolving internal party divisions.
Political rivalries within parties are now often far more intense than between parties. Bargaining and attempts at consensus building between parties are often viewed as political disloyalty.
Dysfunctionality of Congress has been immeasurably amplified by President Obama’s personal reluctance to interact closely with individual members of the House or Senate. Democrats in Congress are often openly critical of the Democrat President’s unwillingness to address their personal concerns and priorities.
Thus, both the Presidency and the composition of Congress in 2017 remain unknowns.
Therefore the outlook for domestic economic policies, debt management, climate change, healthcare, trade, defense, and foreign policy are all in question, leaving large uncertainties for world politics and the world economy in the next few years.
It must also be kept in mind that transitions from one Presidency to another have been notoriously slow in recent decades.
Although the changeover from the past President to the next takes place all at once, the elaborate process of appointing and securing Senate approval of new cabinet and sub-cabinet officials takes several months.
Once a new Cabinet and sub-cabinet team are in place a power struggle inevitably takes place among them, and between them and White House staff who are subject to personal decisions of the President.
Some Presidents delegate a wide span of autonomy and authority to cabinet leaders and their departments. Other Presidents delegate little authority, and let White House staff micromanage daily decisions whenever that is deemed desirable.
The nation and the world have become accustomed to President Obama’s preference for detailed control of the Executive Branch, delegating little authority to his senior public officials in such complex areas as national security and foreign policy.
A future President may manage quite differently.
Whatever the new system ultimately looks like, there will likely be a lengthy period of trial and error in policies and in the respective roles of Cabinet members and agency heads.
Thus, the rest of the world may find continuing uncertainty in the direction of American policy throughout much of the first year of a new President.
At a time of worldwide political and security challenges, and possible continuation of global economic slowdown, the global turbulence we have recently experienced may continue well into and even beyond the next year.