Turning the Clock with Elections

by Knofear

Greetings all!

This post comes at a unique period in time, at a point in the year where election cycles are either revving up like in America, or winding down like in several other nations. I’ve made this post not to speak in general about how elections have shaped our world through a large blanket of time. Instead, I plan on speaking solely of four elections, all of which have taken place within this year. I will take a look at the results and implications of elections in Mexico, Russia, France, and Egypt.

Moving on from that, I’m sure you’re wondering why I would group Mexico, Russia, France, and Egypt together for any reason besides the relative closeness of when their elections took place. I did not choose these nations to make one single grouping, nor did I intend them to be seen as the same in many ways. I chose them because they are so different, and because changes of tides in these nations points to new reflections about how people feel about politics today. However, it is not as though these countries have no similarities at all. Mexico and Egypt, for example, both have excellent regional influence. However, both of these nations rarely dominate global politics barring extreme circumstances, and both are widely considered developing nations. Russia and France, on the other hand, have enormous global influence due to their size and involvement in global political affairs. Both are fairly rich nations compared to the rest of the world, and yet both struggle with internal problems which boil over every now and then. I could go on, although I feel my point here has been made.

Now let’s look at the results of the elections in these nations. In Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI was elected by a fairly wide margin, taking the mantle of a party which was essentially discredited until now (http://mexicoinstituteonelections.wordpress.com/). In Russia, Vladimir Putin of the United Russia party won with an enormous margin, shutting out any idea of a credible opposition (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/04/us-russia-election-idUSTRE8220SP20120304). In France, Francois Hollande of the French Socialist party won with a slim yet definitive margin, becoming the second leftist leader of France (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/french-elections-analysis-le-huffington-post_n_1491228.html). And lastly in Egypt, Mohammed Morsi won with a noticeable margin, becoming the first democratically elected “opposition” leader in Egyptian history (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/jun/24/egypt-election-results-live). But why do these elections matter, and how do they relate?

There is a reason I give for titling each of my posts. Most of the time, I let you, the reader, figure it out yourselves. After all, I’ve never made the meaning too hard to decipher. Sometimes, the title is not a metaphor or anything like it; sometimes, it just describes what the topic is on. This is not one of those times. By “turning the clock”, I speak in a metaphor not only of time but of place. In the cases of Mexico and Russia, I feel as though the clock has been turned back, putting these nations in a new position which may be harsh for the next few years. Yet in France and Egypt, I see the clock as having been pushed forward, allowing these countries to pursue a new and vibrant path should they choose to take it. In all of these nations I have chosen, there is the potential for beneficial change and steps forward. And yet, the peoples of those countries must choose to move forward, and that is the most important part.

I’ll start with Mexico. The PRI of Mexico was the ruling party of the country for decades. The Party of the Institutionalized Revolution was originally formed to end competition by differing interests in the wake of the Mexican revolution, and in its earlier days did represent a more leftist attitude towards governance. However, with every corrupted election and every push towards becoming pro-business, the party abandoned its leftism as time passed. Eventually, the true leftists of the party would break away and form the Party of the Democratic Revolution (the PRD). The party maintained control of Mexican politics until 2000, when a conservative current allowed the National Action Party (PAN) under Vicente Fox to win. And until the recent elections, the PAN managed to hold on to power, keeping the PRD out of presidential politics.

But there is a reason the conservative current has ended in Mexico, and that is the drug war. As we all know, Mexico struggles with drug-related crimes and homicides, just as it has for a very long time. Under Fox and Felipe Calderon, a full military effort was made to battle cartels and drug lords, resulting in tens of thousands dying (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/world/americas/mexico-updates-drug-war-death-toll-but-critics-dispute-data.html). The sheer death toll combined with an upswing in drug-related crimes have discredited the PAN, combining with general dissatisfaction about an economy that has resisted equalizing measures under right-wing leadership. Disgusted by the failures of what many Mexicans viewed as the first truly democratic party of Mexico, it’s not unreasonable to see why some would turn back to the PRI. Said party ruled with relative stability, although the means of such rule were more than questionable, with multiple allegations in the past of cutting deals with drug lords to ensure peace. However, the far more likely reason for Nieto’s victory is vote-buying and rigging. The PRI was notorious for their sub-democratic means of winning elections in the past. By paying off voters and stuffing ballot boxes, they ensured they had nothing to worry about come election day. It comes as no surprise to me that they would resort to these devilish practices once again, and then deny them when the PRD candidate Lopez Obrador accused them. The Mexican tide has turned towards an autocratic past, but that can be changed. Should the recent elections be exposed as the fraud they were, Mexico will have the chance to change for the better. If necessary, Mexicans could wait until the next election, and unseat the PRI once more to show just how strongly they are committed to fighting for Mexico’s future. No matter what happens, Mexico must not be allowed to return to the old ways.

And now, on to Russia. Russia is a special case due to the way its governance system has developed. We must remember that Russia had been the Soviet Union from 1917 until 1991; the country had not experienced any kind of true change in a very long time. Even prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, the tsars had dominated Russia. Having democracy thrust upon a nation which had never truly voted before seriously called into question what Russia would become. Under Yeltsin, Russia made the transition to democracy, albeit a fiery and restless one at that. Yeltsin became known for being the most unpopular leader in Russian history, leaving office with an approval rating of around 2%. By introducing economic shock therapy and rapid liberalization of the economy to end the practices of communism, Yeltsin neglected the fact that recovering from decades of stagnant bureaucracy does not happen quickly. And as such, a grouping of newly wealthy oligarchs rose in Russia, which angered the Russian population not long afterwards the 1993 constitutional crisis (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Russian_constitutional_crisis_of_1993). From 1999 onwards, Vladimir Putin would hold a fist over Russia, ruling either through the presidency or premiership since Yeltsin’s resignation.

Up until this year, not much resistance against Putin has been felt. His pseudo-cult of personality has gripped the Russian nation, making it hard to say that he is a poor leader. Exploitation of oil resources has kept Russia from falling too far into harsh economic woes, and Putin’s strong foreign policy approach has ignited nationalist fires which keep him popular among the traditional populace. And yet, the protests this year held against Putin’s unpopular economic and authoritarian measures have amassed numbers not seen in a very long time within the motherland. The Russian clock has not been turned back, but rather frozen in place. The issues confronting Moscow today are those of power, and not of political divisions. Although the Russian population is spread wide, it is more numerous than that of Mexico, and therefore has significant potential in terms of changing the way Russia is ruled. Russia must remove not only Putin, but the United Russia party in order to allow for a government which represents its people. The Russian people face an enormous task, but it is far from impossible. I doubt it will be done through elections, what with the rigging that United Russia is capable of. I hope that whatever change comes for Russia, not too much blood will be spilt. And I can say with absolute certainty that the communist party will have to be part of it. We must learn that communism can be a force for good once more in the land it was first raised.

With my two examples of nations turning to the past out of the way, I now turn my focus towards two countries with brighter prospects. I’ll begin with France this time. Much of French political history is dominated by conservative presidents; the Fifth Republic started off with Charles De Gaulle, a man who would prove to be an annoyance to America and to France as well. He pulled France from NATO and also repulsed American bases in France, ensuring a long-standing sovereignty coupled with a complex foreign relationship. He would be succeeded by Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who despite some more liberal social stances (including lowering the age of majority to 18 and the legalization of abortion) was voted out of office after his first term due to poor handling of the economy. And so ushered in what I call the golden age of France under its first socialist president Francois Mitterrand. He would bring about many of the economic and social indicators that define modern French society that we are familiar with today, including a fifth week of paid leave and abolition of the death penalty. He was the single longest serving French president, having ruled for about 14 years, or two terms under the current constitutional definition. After stepping down in 1995 to Jacques Chirac, France would be dominated by conservatism for another 15 years, in which public unrest over social and economic failures would boil over into urban turmoil during some periods. And while Chirac did oppose the Iraq War, that does not change what he and Sarkozy did to France.

This year, for the second time in history, a socialist president has been elected in France. In a positive turn reminiscent of 1981, Francois Hollande toppled Sarkozy out of his first and only term in office, just like Giscard d’Estaing was removed all those years ago. Many criticize Hollande due to the time at which he has been elected. He is a leader with quite a grip on regional influence, and runs directly in counter to German chancellor Angela Merkel, a conservative and the largest voice for European austerity. Business leaders worry his leftist stance will threaten French finances and push an already indebted nation into further crisis. And lastly, world leaders worry that his foreign policy stance could weaken European unity measures and war efforts in nations like Afghanistan. Have we forgotten what it was like the last time a socialist presided over France? Mitterrand’s presidency was largely a success, achieving a modern French society which provides relatively equal benefits to its populace. A profitable economy was raised, along with numerous social grievances ended. I look at Hollande’s presidency with strong hopes that France will move forward once again, and that France will remain a nation which I admire.  It is my dream that the French people will allow the clock to turn ahead for them.

And lastly, I’ll be taking a look at Egypt. My fellow leftists and I have much to be wary about within the new president, Mohammed Morsi. He was a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization notorious for its increasingly conservative stance in recent years. Morsi himself is religiously conservative, and has proven to be willing to defy military and judicial authority (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/morsi-convenes-egypts-parliament-in-defiance-of-court-and-military/2012/07/10/gJQAGHr9ZW_story.html). And yet, we must remember what he represents. Egyptians have never voted a leader into office before him. In 1952, revolution occurred in Egypt, and by 1956 Gamel Abdul Nasser had taken power. He was a nationalistic and Soviet-aligned leader, who strengthened Egypt’s stance on the world stage by dealing swiftly with the Suez Crisis and leading Egypt against Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. With his death, Anwar Sadat assumed the presidency by default. Sadat changed the Cold War alliance and shifted his support to the United States. Despite being an antagonistic force during the 1973 October War with Israel, he would establish peace with said nation through the Camp David Accords in 1979. He was assassinated in 1981, leading to the decades-long rule of Hosni Mubarak, the dictator deposed during the Arab Spring in 2011.

I am no fan of any of Egypt’s past dictators. The only respect I give for Nasser comes from the fact that he ensured Egyptian independence from imperialism and began the road to some well-planned economic policies. The only thing I’ve ever liked about Sadat was the fact that he established peace with Israel; other than that, I detest him, especially for his Cold War realignment strategy which bolstered unnecessary American influence in the Middle East. I hold nothing but distaste for Mubarak; he was an autocratic leader that modernized Egypt on the backs of both its poor and its resources. This is my prime reasoning for looking upon Morsi with hopeful eyes. He represents the first true strain of democracy for Egypt, and while it may be a strain I won’t always side with that doesn’t mean it can’t be a force for good. During the Egyptian election, I feared that Ahmed Shafiq would discover victory, and would plunge Egypt back into the days of autocracy. I was not thrilled about an Islamist president; but it is far better than a military dictatorship. Morsi has the opportunity to lead as a moderate, despite his past rhetoric. He is an educated leader; should he take the right steps, he can ensure that Egypt moves on a path to prosperity where the army isn’t always hiding in the shadows of the presidency. We just have to hope the Egyptian people selected the correct leader, and that they will continue to do so. They will be the ones to turn Egypt’s clock.

This concludes my post for this week, and I apologize for being a day late; this one took a little longer due to certain circumstances. I hope everyone has enjoyed, and that I’ve given a strong analysis towards my points. If you have criticisms, questions, or other feedback, I encourage you to post a comment here, as I will always reply. If you prefer other methods of communication, my email at zerospintop@live.com is open, along with my Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts. And once again, this is KnoFear, signing off.

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