2016 was the year of the close vote. The year when it became harder to pretend that all is well with “democracy” just because elections take place regularly. The extremely close votes in the nine countries included in this infographic show clearly the deep divisions that exist among populations in democracies across six continents.
Countries that prided themselves on their “liberal” political culture have seen their populations sharply and bitterly divided during election campaigns. The most prominent example is, of course, the U.S., where contrary to all poll predictions, analysis and the expectations of the mainstream media, Donald Trump won the Republican primary with 44.1% and the presidential election by 13.08%. The unique American political system enabled Trump to win 306 electoral votes compared to the 232 votes of his challenger, Hillary Clinton, even though he lost the popular vote by ~2%. The numerous, passionate, and ongoing protests after Trump became President–elect underline how deeply alienated the American people are on the election platforms put forth by the two candidates. Similar divisions were seen between electorates which favour culturally liberal, open economies, and voters who feel they have been hurt by the loss of jobs and immigration that came with globalisation.
Europe, which has claimed to be the birthplace of democracy, has had well-functioning liberal democracies, with impartial judiciaries, free press and the rule of law, at least since the end of the Second World War in 1945. But 70 years later, it has become inward looking, complacent and bureaucratic, leading to breakaways. So in 2016, there was the divisive and apparently self-defeating — at least, in economic terms — referendum in the U.K. in which a tad over half the voters — 51.89% — polled in favour of leaving the European Union. Shortly after the vote, several surveys revealed that the public regretted the outcome, with 6% of people who voted in favour confessing they had made a mistake. Similarly, the December 5 presidential election in Austria yielded the odd outcome in which the Freedom Party of Austria won the first round with 35%, which was not enough to avoid a second round. Alexander Van der Bellen, a Member of the Greens, won the second round with a 53.8% majority. On the whole, though, Islamophobic sentiment and anti-foreigner nationalism that drove this election remain high all over Europe.
Similarly close and phobic votes can be anticipated in the upcoming 2017 elections in Germany, France and the Netherlands. The outcomes can go either way: resulting in a strengthening of the EU or its further fragmentation.
Although there have not been many major national elections in Asia this year, it is interesting to look at Australia for the same outcomes as Europe – for which the latter remains the political and governance model. Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative coalition came in with a small majority: one seat. But it was the third dissolution of government in Australia in three years, reflecting how the country is divided on a razor’s edge.
On the other side of the Pacific is South America, which too has not escaped the phenomenon of divided electorates. The victory of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in the June election in Peru with a 50.1% vote share was an equal surprise since the right-wing Keiko Fujimori was widely expected to win.
Even more surprising was the defeat of the referendum in Colombia to ratify the termination of the conflict with FARC, the rebel group which had devastated the country by violent conflict and drug cartels for more than 50 years. What the outcome showed was not that people did not want peace, but that they differed sharply on the terms of the peace. Finally, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos renegotiated the deal slightly to respond to the rejection and then simply passed it in the Colombian parliament. But the Nobel Prize for Peace awarded to President Santos cannot conceal the deep divisions in Colombia on what constitutes a just peace.
In Africa, the election in The Gambia was won by Adama Barrow with a 3.7% lead in the vote over long-time dictator Yahya Jammeh, who surprised everybody by accepting the outcome. However, within days he had a change of heart and threw the already-riven society into further turmoil by repudiating the election outcome and his own initial acceptance. The denouement will come in January 2017, when the election winner is due to be inaugurated.
Democracy brings into the open the wide gulfs between people, rifts that are suppressed by dictatorships of one sort or another. This has been proven in all continents. In Asia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines won by a large majority by promising a war against drugs – which he is carrying out. The violence of the endeavour may lead to an overturning of the sentiment that brought him into power; for now though, he is all-powerful.
All the elections and referendums underline the deep divisions between the citizens of these nine countries – a phenomena that will likely be seen in major elections in the coming year, in France, Germany, Netherlands, Kenya, Algeria, Angola, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Iran, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, etc.
This should not surprise anyone as ideologies have been leached out of politics to be replaced by election campaigns that run like marketing strategies in which people are treated as segmented consumers rather than citizens. This is now the burden of an increasing number of establishment politics that have grown elitist and subservient to the interests of deracinated multinational corporations, those which exploit not only cheap labour in poor countries, but also tax havens in developed countries, to the benefit of the 1% who already own 50% of global wealth. The status quo is being rejected so completely that voters now prefer the unknown, to the known, unequal equation of a world divided 50:50.
Devanshi Jain is Social Media Manager at Gateway House.
Neelam Deo is Co-founder and Director, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations; She has been the Indian Ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast; and former Consul General in New York.
This feature was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive features here.
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