Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. – Arthur Conan Doyle
2016 must be the year of serious introspection across the globe. Election after election is proving that there is a rise of right of center. The latest is the defeat of Italian PM Matteo Renzi’s referendum (for constitutional reform) yesterday by a wide margin.
People will closely watch the coming elections in France and Germany, and indeed Italy if the opposition there succeeds in forcing snap elections as Renzi resigns. There is a sliver of hope (for the left and centrists) though in Europe as neighboring Austria elected Green-turned-independent Alexander Van der Bellen as its president, defeating the far-right Norbert Hofer.
Hofer’s defeat is significant considering that the former UKIP leader Nigel Farage had claimed that the far-right candidate would call a Brexit-style referendum for Austria to leave the EU. It’s clear that Austrians don’t want to leave EU. It is also important for the fact that Van der Bellen’s victory margin over Hofer increased by 3% over the May 2016 figures, that too on an increased voter turnout.
None of the 2 elections above are as much head-turners as the three I’m going to cover below. These three elections are defining moments in the world history because, if anything, they overturned the supposedly popular mandates.
Till just a few hours before the BREXIT referendum, the online Populus poll gave Remain a 10-point lead, 55 to 45, its strongest performance in days.
If that now seems surprising, consider what other polls and experts had to say before the votes were cast:
- A telephone poll, also published on polling day, for Ipsos MORI in the Evening Standard, also gave Remain the lead but by a smaller 52 to 48 margin.
- An online YouGov poll on the night before gave Remain a 51-49 lead, while a telephone poll for ComRes had Remain leading 54-46.
- Election forecasting experts said that for Leave to win now, it would represent an even bigger polling error than was seen ahead of 2015 or 1992 General Elections.
- There were reports of high turnout in many parts of the country – a factor which had been predicted by some experts to favor a Remain vote.
What happened finally was nothing short of a big jolt to the entire world. A valiant David Cameron, who so passionately led the Remain campaign but failed, is now left with ‘hatching’ plans to kidnap Sachin Tendulkar for training the England cricket team currently touring India, and failing to impress.
Experts say that BREXIT effect is going to take years to fully unfold itself, but even as it does that, some fresh clouds emanate on the horizon on whether Britain can do negotiations with EU without parliament’s approval. The UK Supreme Court is hearing the case as I write this.
The Colombian Referendum
A year back in December 2015, BBC’s Stephen Sackur interviewed the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. While watching it (click the image below to watch it on YouTube), I was immediately impressed by the President’s sincere desire to end the bloody conflict with the FARC rebels.
Sitting so far away in India, one can but have only sketchy ideas of the havoc the Colombian people suffered during the almost 6-decades war with the ultra-left group. I was no exception, but being a frequent Hardtalk watcher, as I chanced upon this episode, I genuinely started liking the President for the hope for peace he exuded during the interview.
He wanted to hold the referendum after signing the peace accord because he wanted to take the views of the people of the country. In the interview, he sounded confident that people would repose faith on him.
That was however not to be.
With so much at stake, imagine the immense surprise when the peace deal was defeated on October 2 by a slender margin of fewer than 54,000 votes out of almost 13 million cast. This happened even though the polls before the vote predicted that the yes camp would win with a comfortable 66% share.
For once, the events thereafter proved that political sagacity is not lost on the main players involved in the peace deal.
President Santos didn’t deter in his determination to seek peace. After the results came in, he said in Bogotá that he would send his negotiators back to Havana to meet with FARC leaders again. “I will not give up,” he said in a televised address.
He said, “I will continue seeking peace until the last day of my presidency.”
The FARC leaders too must be praised for their efforts. For, now the peace deal has been renegotiated to reach a final agreement just a few days back, albeit bypassing voters this time, and it has been approved by the Colombia’s Congress.
Meanwhile, President Santos gained international acclaim and tremendous goodwill and has justifiably been chosen for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016.
The mother of all poll forecasts going awry is the election of Donald Trump in the US. It’s so surprising that Hillary Clinton led all the way, then lost to Trump in the final lap. At one stage, Clinton had an edge of 12 points over Trump, 45% for her and 33% for him.
How could this seemingly unbridgeable gap got reversed is something for the political scientists to mull over in the days and years to come. But there is no doubt that the liberals detested Trump’s win, and they still do as the President-elect selects his team for the White House.
Reams and reams of articles have been written about Trump and his win. The one among a few that I read filled me with deep anxiety. It’s an interview with Fred Turner, who is a Stanford-based historian of the 20th-century media.
Talking about fascism and authoritarianism in the early 20th century, Turner lists 6 key elements of fascism as under:
- A reversionary desire to return to an imagined state of greatness from the past.
- A celebration of heterosexual masculinity. You could think of Vladimir Putin’s need to take off his shirt or Donald Trump’s obsession with the size of his hands.
- A charismatic leadership style.
- An absolute disregard for facts and a celebration of myth.
- An integration of the corporation and the state, which is what Mussolini wanted to do and feels reminiscent of what Trump wants to do today.
- A deep, structural racism. There is always someone on the outs. In Japan, it was particular minority groups. In Germany, it was obviously the Jews, but it was also gypsies, queers and communists, among others. And you can see that kind of racism, that kind of in-group and out-group dynamic here, with Trump.
Do I see a queer similarity closer home?
The jury is out on this.