A spate of elections across Europe have shown one definite trend: the voters are in an anti-incumbent mood and are almost certain to vote out unpopular governments. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy became the first head of state in decades to serve only one term after he was defeated by the socialist Francois Hollande. Voters in Greece did not give a majority to any one party but those in power suffered huge and unprecedented losses. Similarly, elections in the German province of Schleswig-Holstein saw Angela Merkel’s coalition losing its majority. The only recent election to buck this anti-incumbent trend was London’s mayoral election, but that had more to do with Boris Johnson’s personal charm and his successful attempt in distancing himself from the hugely unpopular Prime Minister David Cameron.
The one word that sums up the reason for this anti-government fervour is austerity. In the wake of the financial meltdown and subsequent recession, governments across Europe have been slashing budgets and cutting down on services provided to the people. These steps were mostly dictated by the European Union and have been predictably unpopular. Citizens, especially in Europe, expect a certain number of services to be provided by their governments and having that denied to them is not going to boost the popularity of the current regimes. Austerity has also not done much to lift Europe out of its economic downturn; rather it only seems to have prolonged it.
While a slight move to the left in Europe is welcome, there is also a more sinister element to the anti-government sentiments. The extreme right, with an agenda of fear-mongering and anti-immigration, has been using the recession to boost its popularity. In France, Hollande was only able to defeat Sarkozy because Marie Le Pen did not instruct her supporters to back the president. Greece, too, saw a surge in the popularity of extreme right parties. So strong is the sentiment against centrist governments that the hatred displayed by the extreme right is not enough to turn off voters. Under the guise of populism, these parties are slowly gaining respectability without having to renounce policies that give off a whiff of fascism.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2012.
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