France is the next country coming up with elections for president and parliament scheduled for spring 2022. Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron is trailing in polls to the leader of Front National, Marine Le Pen, and even if there is more than one year to go, it is certainly not a good omen. Even if Macron or somebody like him wins the presidency, Parliament may turn out heavily fragmented making governing difficult.
Italy’s next election is May 2023 at the latest, but the situation is unstable so it can happen anytime between now and May 2023. The Lega Nord, classified by many observers as being in the same league as populist parties across Europe, is harvesting around 25 percent in opinion polls.
After winning the premiership on July 24, 2019, one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first actions was to advise the queen that parliament should be prorogued for five weeks; a step later to be declared unlawful by Britain’s supreme court. He will face a sterner test later this year. Scotland holds a general election for its parliament on May 6, 2021. Polls point to a majority for the Scottish National Party, whose leader, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that she will call a referendum on independence from Britain. Opinion polls discloses a majority for leaving Britain. Johnson vigorously rejects such a step, saying that the result of the 2014 referendum, with a majority for staying in the union, will last for a generation. Reacting to this, Sturgeon throws down the gauntlet, turning it into a question of democracy, saying that Johnson is frightened of democracy and that he fears the verdict and the will of the Scottish people. If the Scots plunge ahead, Johnson faces an awkward problem denying the Scots the right to leave after having been a protagonist for Britain leaving the European Union. For the Scots, it will be seen as denying them fundamental democratic rights and questioning the moral and probably also legal right of the British political system at Westminster. As if this is not enough, an opinion poll in Northern Ireland found that 51 percent want a referendum on Irish unity in the next five years.
In the United States, Biden faces a mammoth task trying to unify the nation. There is no need for a deeper analysis, the difficulties speak for themselves.
He may be democracy’s last chance. At the recent presidential election seventy-four million Americans voted for Trump and what he stands for. If Biden fails, then they will feel vindicated, heralding Trump as the savior of the nation. Even if circumstances turn out in a way that prevents Trump from running again, his policies remain and another candidate will emerge to rally his discontented and angry supporters. It doesn’t require a big swing in voters due to the fragile balance to see somebody like Trump back in the White House.
The man holding the key is not Biden, but Minority Speaker Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) presuming he stays as leader of the Republicans in the Senate. His choice is:
- either to fight for republican positions while at the same time showing courage to enter into compromises some of which will be agonizing, but necessary to get the U.S. economy back on a growth pattern and heal the wounds.
- or obstructing the Biden administration to the best of his abilities and paint them as incompetent, luring voters back to the republicans. The price will be a paralyzed nation.
McConnell faces the choice between party or nation. Hopefully, he will look back on the friendship between two other old men, Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, who in the 1980s through mutual respect and sense of responsibility managed to govern the nation. Statecraft, wisdom and tolerance is called for under circumstances. Unfortunately, recently these assets have been in short supply. We can only hope that the tide is turning.
Joergen Oerstroem Moeller is a former state-secretary for the Royal Danish Foreign Ministry and the author of Asia’s Transformation: from Economic Globalization to Regionalization, ISEAS, Singapore, 2020.