Sat, May 13, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan and the shift to the right

By Ian Inkster 音雅恩

Those of us applauding the result of the French presidential election should perhaps do so tentatively or with only one hand. Enthusiasm for the defeat of the far-right candidate in France disguises the greater fact of the rightward shift of the political center at a global level within our major democratic systems. France should not make leftward liberals too sanguine.

The French race was won by a candidate without any track record, left or liberal, and no experience of elected office, by a party so recent and small it barely exists, and in the absence of any really serious attempt amongst the established parties and interests to forge workable coalitions between the liberals and the left.

The latter failure meant that the race was merely won by the least harmful candidate, himself a product of elite French institutions and a particularly entitled, yet unelected minister under French President Francois Hollande, seemingly without any detailed platform of policies on the economy, on social change, on industries and regions, nothing beyond an enthusiasm for the existing, unreformed “European project.”

Yet it is not difficult to see the EU as a fundamentally conservative troika — a very large platform for the further application of the neoliberal market faiths of the German government, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

Many commentators have perceived the tendency of a shift to the right within established parliamentary frameworks. The liberal left, which long struggled to ameliorate the worst excesses of market competition and which put its faith in public interventions to safeguard jobs, incomes, civil life and public amenities, has long fought against the neoliberal activists of a more aggressive capitalism, one that lives by the dictum that the profit system is indeed one that is highly unprofitable to most people.

The real difference now is that we are inheriting the aftermath of the global recession of 2008, where financial collapse resulted in a fightback of established interests that operated through a rightward shift of the entire political discourse and its leading institutions, including the political parties that held the trust of voters.

So, where it had taken considerable time and effort, and a good deal of ingenuity, for a leader such as former British prime minister Tony Blair to move the Labour Party toward the center and right, a few months have seen a complete turnaround within the center, with a larger proportion of its core turning further to the right.

In most of Europe the democratic left is fragmented and anxious.

The question is not so much the one now being discussed by most of the media: Will the rightward shift continue toward greater extremes in the major systems within the next few years?

Again, the second question of whether it will spread to other established democracies in and beyond Europe and the US is also of interest.

More interesting is the effect of the shift on smaller democratizing nations and, in particular, the possible impact on the most exemplary and successful of Asian democratic transitions, Taiwan.

In nations of democratic transition, the forces behind right-wing populism might not be so marked as in the older democracies — heightened mistrust of new elites has not yet become an overwhelming attitude; feelings of disempowerment are less where a political system is escaping from an earlier authoritarian regime; fear of economic globalization and immigration is less where there is a higher rate of economic growth; and worries over growing inequality are neutralized by relief at the escape from poverty.

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