25 May, 2017

Macron’s Big Win: Vital Lessons For Sri Lanka

By Lukman Harees

Lukman Harees

After the most thrilling and tumultuous election campaign of recent times, the French have defied populism and made history. Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old leader of the fledgling En Marche! (On the Move!) party, soundly defeated Ms Marine Le Pen by 66% to 34%. The defeat of Le Pen, the ‘unsinkable’ stalwart of the xenophobic right, undoubtedly offered great comfort to all those who have worried of the almost meteoric rise of the far right movements in the recent past in the West. There was a fear that the French would choose nationalism. It’s been a difficult moment – the country was so divided. The atmosphere of the election – while not exactly civil war – was of a deep clash of ideas. Ms Le Pen’s harsh and negative campaign based on opposition to the European Union, opposition to immigration and opposition to supposed elitism, while espousing aggressive nationalism, was emphatically rejected by the voters.

Throughout his campaign, Macron pitched himself as a direct alternative to Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, nationalist rhetoric and whose National Front party is also tainted by a racist past. French woke up to the vision of Macron to confront xenophobia and racism and to challenge the fantasies of economic isolation and to lead the nation by representing the cultural values of its skilled and educated people, and the young, bringing to a close an “annus horribilis”( horrible year) marked by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. The prospect of a nation with the stature of France passing into the hands of a party regarded by so many to be racist, indeed near-fascist, caused alarm internationally across the mainstream political board. Madani Cheurfa, a professor of politics at Paris’s Sciences Po. Said “The world is focused on France because France has managed to encapsulate — almost to the point of caricature — the debate underway across the world.”

The U.S. elections and Brexit last year were preceded by a divisive campaign, overshadowed by hate speech specifically Xenophobic and Islamophobic and anti-establishment sentiments . Surprising or not, all of this could also be said about Sunday’s French presidential election as well. Naturally therefore, the West’s political establishments turned their anxious attention to a series of potentially disruptive elections in Europe. However, Far-right movements suffered set-backs , making Macron’s win the third consecutive setback for European populist parties who preached a mix of Trump-style nationalism and protectionism to voters fed up with conventional politics. Ms Le Pen’s defeat thus was not the first setback for right-wing populism in Europe . A far-right candidate Norbert Hofer lost Austria’s presidential vote in December, and the Dutch re-elected mainstream parties in March rejecting far-right firebrand Geert Wilders and his anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV).

Debates around religion and identity are far more extreme in France. With regard to tackling the issue of home-grown radicalisation too, Macron certainly has a better idea of what that means as he promised to focus on preventative measures and coherent plans for integration although it will take a lot of work to make France match up with the inclusive, diverse image that he has painted around his campaign. Macron thus confronted racism, stigmatised it, and offered hope. As Josef Janning, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations said, “This is what happens when the refugee crisis doesn’t dominate the headlines anymore and the right-wing populists are dismantling themselves. It isn’t that simple after all to break Europe apart with nationalism.”

However, all is still not well for Macron . One survey showed that 43 percent of those who voted for Macron on Sunday did so out of opposition to Le Pen’s National Front, with only a third doing so to renew French politics. The far-right took some comfort in its best electoral showing in French history. Further, although Le Pen fell well short of the presidency, her score was roughly double what her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, got in the second round in 2002. In the coming days, Mr Macron will therefore not only take in the full measure of what he has achieved, but also of the burden of the task ahead. He will appoint a provisional government but then needs to secure, or stitch together, a governing majority in parliament after two-round elections in June. Mr Macron’s ability to revive confidence and turn France around, matters for the whole of Europe. If he fails, it will be harder than ever next time to keep populism at bay, and the likes of Le Pen out of power. He rightly opined “As long as traditional parties brandish only fear or morality to fight the (Le Pen’s) FN, it won’t be efficient”.

As France’s biggest labour union, the CFDT said, “Now, all the anxieties expressed at the ballot by a part of the electorate must be heard,” it said in a statement. “The feeling of being disenfranchised, of injustice, and even abandonment is present among a large number of our citizens”. Macron also underlined this need during his victory speech. “I know the divisions of our country that have driven some to the extreme. I respect them. I know the anger, anxiety, and doubts that many have expressed”. He told The Economist last year, ‘Politicians needed to propose something positive, persuasive and engaging instead: an open, tolerant, pro-European society, based on encouraging private enterprise rather than crushing or over-protecting it, and creating paths out of poverty for globalisation’s victims.

Lessons Beyond France

As stated, the failure of the far-right to seize office comes in stark contrast to expectations in last November that Trump’s ascendancy in the United States would unleash a global wave of populist politicians. Trump’s anti-globalization and anti- Muslim rhetoric were more in line with Le Pen than Macron who adopted a more open and optimistic creed. The subsequent elections have shown a clear trend in Western Europe: Voters are sick of the mainstream and fed up with their leaders. But they are still not ready to hand power to the far-right. The chaotic first months of the Trump presidency may actually have hurt Europe’s populists rather than helping them. Even in Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany has collapsed in opinion polls in recent months following post-Trump heights. Dr Maryse Helbert, a researcher in French national and international politics at the University of Melbourne, said Le Pen’s defeat signalled a rejection of populist sentiments. It shows that while yes, there was a wave of populism in the world, starting with Donald Trump and Brexit, it hasn’t translated in other European countries.”

As observers note, radical rightwing politics attempted to thrive by exploiting the popular rage that characterises the mood in France today (fuelled by joblessness and deep distrust of the elites). Despite that trend, a clear-sighted, energetic Macron came out on top. He calls himself “progressive”, and stands for social liberalism, or pro-market social democracy. As observers call him, he is the anti-radical who advocates step-by-step, moderate reform to heal the many fractures of an extremely tense and anxious country. He doesn’t want to pitch social classes or ethnic groups against one another. His is a slow-motion revolution, and that’s something utterly new by French standards. It’s an approach that could strike a chord not just across its’ continent that sees nationalism reawakened, but beyond too. The best antidote seems to be a confident centre, one built on pragmatic, moral, optimistic beliefs as experts point out.

What lessons can Sri Lanka draw from Macron victory?

  • Need to look for a Third Force; beyond the two main parties :whose political leadership have lost credibility as they have not shown any pragmatic signs of reforming their approaches to suit the needs of the electorate. Even ‘Yahapalanya’ has become a misnomer.
  • Need For Youth Leadership: There is a certain irony in the fact that those who reach political leadership tend to be of mature years, even elderly. Our contemporary culture cherishes youth; yet the democratic procedures regularly ensure that positions of public accountability are not thrust on the young. In today’s context, there is a need for new ideas and imagination and to take calculated risks by trying out those new ideas. This necessitates infusion of new blood.
  • Need to Reach Out to the Silent majority: who feel disillusioned by the partisan policies of the government in power. If this does not happen, there is a possibility for Trumps and Le Pens to emerge from within and exploit the mood of the masses. In 2011 the political think tank Demos conducted compelling research into the increased online popularity of neonazi and openly fascist political parties in Europe. Jamie Bartlett, the principal author of the report, says it is vital to track the spread of such attitudes among the new generation of online activists, who are far more numerous than the formal membership of such parties.”There are hundreds of thousands of them across Europe. They are disillusioned with mainstream politics and European political institutions and worried about the erosion of their cultural and national identity, and are turning to populist movements who they feel speak to these concerns.” These activists are largely out of sight of mainstream politicians, but they are motivated, active and growing in size. Politicians across the continent need to sit up, listen and respond.”
  • Need to Keep an Eye on the disruptive far right groups which preach hatred of the other: Parties touting anti-immigrant and Islamophobic ideas in Europe exploited the economic crisis and eurozone financial meltdown as a way to pull in new members, particularly from the middle classes and unemployed youth and to spread their Xenophobic and Islamophobic ideas to gain political mileage.This had all the classic hallmarks of Hitler’s rise to power on the back of resentment over the reparations Germany paid for World War I, the 1929 global capitalist crisis and the scapegoating of a vulnerable group – the Jews. The Nazis’ anti-Semitic rhetoric then struck a chord of deep cultural hatred for Jewish people. Nowadays it is Muslims and overt Islamophobia not just in Europe but in other parts of the globe as well, well supported by a powerful Islamophobic industry as author Lean Nathan calls it. It is therefore imperative the government monitor the workings of many hate groups operating in Sri Lanka too, which also follow a similar agenda, going by what the social media shows us.
  • Need to Adopt a Centrist Approach :without pampering to the extremist /majoritarian lobbies. Macron understood that most elections are won by occupying the political centre not pandering to its extremes, by appealing to progressive patriotism rather than aggressive nationalism and by having the courage to tell blunt truths to voters when necessary. His victory therefore offered a lesson in how to defeat populists on both the far-left and far-right without compromising on principles or reverting to rabble-rousing demagoguery. Since independence, political leaders in Sri Lanka have always played more towards the Sinhala –Buddhist gallery and failed to act as national leaders of all communities. This has become bane for Sri Lanka. Earlier Sri Lanka realizes this conundrum, the better for the people and their future progeny.

 

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Lukman Harees: You yourself contradict what you discuss in the article. YOu say Debate around Identiy and religion is very strong. then you discuss a different approach by the ew president. Read the following by another analyst. MAcron win is simply because he vowed to tear off labour laws, to work against globalization. On the other hand, LE Pen was trying to promote WAr and she was talking about “France first” and as TRUMP did. but, people did not like her bankrupt politics. So, people, that is voters, have vowed that will fight MAcron if would not tear the new labour laws which promotes globalization and make people lose jobs. IT is not what you says. France was perceived as a potential weak link in the globalization project of eliminating national sovereignty in favor of the worldwide reign of capital. As for the French, abstention was nearly record-breaking, as much of the left could not vote for the self-proclaimed enemy of labor law but dared not vote for the opposition candidate, Marine Le Pen, because one just cannot vote for someone who was labeled “extreme right” or even “fascist” by an incredible campaign of denigration, even though she displayed no visible symptom of fascism and her program was favorable to lower income people and to world peace. Words count in France, where the terror of being accused of sharing World War II guilt is overwhelming. There may be street demonstrations in coming months, but that will have little impact on Macron’s promise to tear up French labor law by decree and free labor and management to fight it out between themselves, at a time when management is powerful thanks to delocalizations and labor is disorganized and enfeebled by the various effects of globalization. The whole europe knows how muslim shave moved into europe and how fast they are islamizing the Europe using European laws. That subject is very well discussed and that is why europeans are hysterical about when muslims try to cover up the whole body in various ways. that is simply suing the religion to convert the whole world.
    • 1
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      Great work Dr. Lukmann! Keep it coming. If the JVP can adopt a centerist and rational approach and keep the focus on ENDING the POLITICAL CULTURE of CORRUPTION and IMPUNITY for Financial Crimes against the people of Sri Lanka by the SLFP and UNP politicians, and not get bogged down in SITEM protest and Rajapase’s distractions, JVP will win the next election among the Sinhala voters. Hope AKD can stay the course.
  • 7
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    As 16 year old, Macron had relationship with his 40 old teacher which is utterly wrong. Besides he was just elected, it’s too early to say anything of him. French electing centrist doesn’t mean that Muslim menace will be allowed to abuse native French. Muslims should not think that everyone in this world is Sinhala-Buddhist that allows Muslims to steal their land, wealth and make their country another Muslim pigsty, French are no pushover like Sinhalese. Every article of your kind ends up attacking Sinhala-Buddhist establishment. Let’s get one thing straight, Muslims aren’t part of Sri Lanka’s interior. Only God knows how Muslim menace got here. Last week some Muslim culprits with fraudulent land deed objected native people re-building a stupa, thankfully great Gnanasara thero has taken matters to his own hands. 7th century death cult should be banned from Sri Lanka.
    • 2
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      Sri Lanka is the Land of Veddas (indigenous). The original language of the Veddas is the Vedda language. This land is not anybody else’s land, all the others crossed the sea to the Island…most of them from India…so do Arabs and thus Muslims live here in Sri Lanka.
      • 0
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        Muslims of Sri Lanka also arrived from India and not from any Arab or Moor land. A little bit of Arab does not make you Arab, as you desperately want to. The Muslims of Sri Lanka are around 95% Tamil by heritage and descent and only have around 5% Arab an d other blood. However they seem to be ignoring their 95% Tamil origin and heritage , despite speaking Tamil and until recently following Tamil customs and only claim and acknowledge their 5% Arab and other ancestry, as their exclusive origin and to prove this, join Sinhalese and other racists to discriminate and kill Tamils and try to steal their land for their fake Arab immigrant community from South India, then wonder why Tamils do not like them and are rightfully suspicious of them and the Sinhalese also look down on them. Nobody likes a backstabber who denies their own heritage and origin and falsely claims another origin and heritage as theirs, thinking it will make them look good in the eyes of the world and give them lots of political and economic advantages. If an individual spurns his parents and siblings and runs behind others, he or she will be looked down upon, it is the same with a people. Arabs have many times stated the Sri Lanka Muslims are not of Arab descent but South Asian converts to Islam. Yet you people shamelessly still keep on insisting on an Arab origin, that everyone knows is a lie. Even an American FBi/CIA site stated the Sri Lankan Muslims despite having a predominantly Tamil origin completely ignore this for political convenience and keep on claiming an Arab heritage.
  • 0
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    The both extreme positions always drive the Human beings to seek the Nadir/Null point where there is no conflicts in any matters where no-plus and no-minus existing but only HUMANITY exists !
  • 4
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    “Since independence, political leaders in Sri Lanka have always played more towards the Sinhala –Buddhist gallery and failed to act as national leaders of all communities.” Is Mr. Sambandhan acting like an opposition leader of all communities? Whether it is Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim does not make much of a difference. They all play the same game.
    • 1
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      Eagle Eye, SL Citizen, Dr Clean, …… “Whether it is Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim does not make much of a difference.” It does.
  • 3
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    Since independence, political leaders in Sri Lanka have always played more towards the Sinhala –Buddhist gallery and failed to act as national leaders of all communities. This has become bane for Sri Lanka. Earlier Sri Lanka realizes this conundrum, the better for the people and their future progeny. Sinhala buddhist Gallery. At least, our holy books do not say kill infidels and women are inferior to men, so treat them as animals and good only on the bed.
  • 2
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    The lessons part mostly make sense, but what is centrism in Sri Lankan context? Something like the ‘Middle Path’ of SWRD? I hope not. We are a neocolony and need to free ourselves of heavy dependence on the global market. What is our main export? Labour, labour which instead should build a robust, essentially self-sufficient economy. As for the election, The choice was between death and disease. The vote gathered by the NF in the first round itself worrying. Macron is not great news for the masses. His loyalties are with neoliberal capital. The low voting rate and 12% spoiled (of the ballots cast) tells us something. Macron’s was mostly a negative vote. The choice was between death and diease.
  • 2
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    Did you Muslim fanatics ever ask why Muslim/Arab refugees ALL go to the west like all the other people? But others like Sinhala, tamil, or indians do not insist on their bullshit laws to be enforced in Christian secular lands. Only Radical Islamists do that. So you are always biased in your reporting. Many places will and should ban the non-religious enforced by damned Saudi Arab Burqa for safety. I hope India and Sri Lanka do the same. We are secular nations with majority non muslim populations. That is why we are better than your Arab nations. I say Arab and not Muslim nations because Indonesia is the world’s largest muslim nation and is now in the throes of radical islam. I say destroy Radical islam before it destroys Secular Christian majority White nations of Europe. That does not mean respecting Islam but not the way Saudis do. No other religion is free even in Maldives? WHY? Give us a logical answer on that. If Arab nations are so great, why the hell don’t these refugees run to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait? Yes FRANCE and Germany have accepted more refugees than your Arab buddies. ADAPT and CHANGE and RESPECT LOCAL cultures and local religions first. Do not try to force people not to eat pork and drink beer.
  • 1
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    Most Arab refugees are not smart or educated. They oppress their women. We tamils work hard, are enterprising, we practice our faith while respecting Christian hosts. We even have a Hindu temple in our area. You all have mosques too; but can you list the number of Arab nations with Hindu temples and Churches?
  • 4
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    I myself I am relieved that it was Macron and not Le Pen. However I will not sing his praises yet as he has a lot to prove. It is quite evident from the surveys that he won because people wanted to reject a Le Pen government and not because of his own strengths and policies. Lessons for Sri Lanka can be applied only once he turns words into actions. However there is a big lesson for Sri Lankan voters to vote with their head and not their heart like the French did. (They even showed the British public how it should be done.) We call ourselves an educated nation but we really don’t know how to apply it by making progressive and sensible decisions. We need to separate religion from politics. We need to separate race from politics. We need to depoliticise Sri Lanka as everything from national cricket, to hospitals, to businesses, to schools are all linked to politics. The need of the hour is for Sri Lanka to purge crony politics and evaluate parties and politicians based on policies and not from the pedigree of his family or school.

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