The Outlook For Democracy, December 2016

TAG examines the outlook for democracy amid a resurgent nationalist populism in Europe and recent election results in Lebanon and Ghana.

The Outlook for Democracy

The Rise of European Nationalism?

Analysts have decried the waning of progressive Western democracies in the face of a resurgent nationalist populism, while casting nervous eyes toward Russia. However, the recent Presidential vote in Austria saw the more moderate, pro-European candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, soundly defeat the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer. In France’s conservative primaries, voters opted for a moderate technocrat in Francois Fillon whose campaign will make it significantly harder for the far right’s Marine LePen to prevail in next year’s Presidential elections. These developments buck the current populist trend and will provide some reinforcement for European institutions and alliances that are grappling with a sclerotic economy and a pressing refugee crisis. Yet the recent constitutional referendum in Italy that prompted the ouster of Italian PM Matteo Renzi, will make it harder to manage its indebted banks, which will weigh heavily on the European economy. How Europe fares economically in the next few months will be determinant for German leader Angela Merkel and for the direction for Europe in general. No one is watching these developments more closely than Vladimir Putin. Putin is seeking any opportunity to bring bordering states further into his sphere of influence and capitalize on cleavages within the European alliances to woo certain heads of states, like Mr. Fillon, into adopting a more accommodating tone toward Russia, lifting sanctions and generally weakening NATO.

Elections Results You May Have Missed

A New Balance of Power in Lebanon

The recent appointment of General Michel Aoun as Lebanon’s President and Saad Hariri as its Prime Minister is a positive auger for restoring stability in Lebanon. Without a functioning government for the past two years, and in the shadow of Syria’s civil war, Lebanon’s endless challenges have only gotten worse. Many speculate that it was Hariri’s diminished fortunes that drove him to make a deal to endorse Aoun. Others say that it was the rapprochement of Aoun with his main Christian rival that forced Hariri’s hand. An entirely different possibility is that the Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has greatly diminished its capacity to control Aoun, leaving Hariri to draw him away from Iran’s circle of influence toward a more pro-Western and pro-Saudi position. Whatever the actual case, none of the major players are operating from a position of great strength. We may be seeing a very new balance of power emerging that leaves the key players dependent on internal alliances rather than only external influence. And this may present an opportunity for the Lebanese people: Lebanon’s ruling elite may actually have to govern.

Another Peaceful Election in Ghana

The leading opposition candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, won Ghana’s December 2016 presidential election last week. This election marks the third peaceful change in party power in Ghana – an important symbol of stability in an otherwise politically volatile region. President John D. Mahama’s government was plagued by accusations of widespread corruption and citizens have remained disenchanted with their country’s economic performance for much of his tenure. The Ghanaian economy has declined in the last four years, due to a slump in prices for exports of cocoa, gold, and oil. The incoming government supports the International Monetary Fund’s current efforts to restore fiscal stability amidst an increased budget deficit, high public debt, and inflation. Akufo-Addo has also promised to crack down on government corruption and is seeking to spur economic growth by providing each district with funds to spend on development projects.