The New Way of Politics in Election Period – Emilija Tudzarovska Gjorgjievska
As the Czechs go to the polls, a new politics emerges across Europe, variously populist and technocratic.
We can always learn more about the character and shortcomings of modern representative democracies in times of elections. We can learn even more in between, when democratic accountability should actually be exercised. Together, we are able to learn what strategies political actors pursue to secure or stay in power and how they legitimize their political choices. However, patterns are emerging, common to the various democracies of the European Union, indicating a new way of doing politics.
In the recent German elections, Olaf Scholz won on a message of dignity and respect for all workers, under the slogan Respekt für Dich (‘Respect for you’). The “you” to whom this appeal was made was not “others who think they are better”, but those who felt underestimated or treated with indignity, perhaps by “others”, in the community. modern society. It helped Scholz’s Social Democrats win back votes from the rising center-right CDU / CSU above party politics.
In the Czech elections this weekend, the call is to give the people back a country free of corruption (the Pirates) or to support the dominant party (ANO, the party “for all”) until that end. In neither case, however, is it clear how this no-corruption status will be achieved once the elections are over.
Indeed, Andrej Babiš, the second richest man in the country, founded and fully funded the ANO movement ten years ago as an anti-corruption organization—Akce nespokojených občanů (Disgruntled Citizens Action) – the acronym for “yes” in Czech. His party first entered government in 2014 as a junior partner of the Social Democrats (ČSSD). After the 2017 elections, the ANO assumed the lead role, with the support of the ČSSD. This is evidence of the growing fragmentation of a shared public sphere – in which Pirates are also a factor – and the possible disappearance of the classic political struggle of diverse ideas and values in the Czech Republic.
These patterns are not limited to the Czech Republic, however. In Italy, the Five-star movement (M5S), founded in 2009 by comedian Beppe Grillo, started small online and achieved great success in the 2013 general election. Five years later, led by then 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio, he grew to become the biggest party, while the far right of Matteo Salvini Liga has become the most popular force on the right.
There are many similarities between the M5S and the Pirates in the Czech Republic. Remarkable is the culture of a direct relationship between the leader and the morally pure “People” – the first being supposed to embody the second – in opposition to the supposedly corrupt “elites”.
Anti-corruption rhetoric comes in handy for winning elections, in the absence of a proper understanding of what corruption really is, what forms it can take in liberal democratic systems, and under what conditions it takes root. Very often, corrupt practices in post-communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe are presented as legacies of the past, while corruption scandals in Western democracies can be dismissed as exceptions to the rule.
This allows political leaders to bypass any serious, country-specific approach to corruption that tackles rule of law deficits and reinforces state immunity. Although there are many types of abuse: patronage, favoritism, tax evasion, revolving doors– most have in common the exploitation of loopholes in the law, including where the law has been passed without proper public scrutiny.
In France, in view of the presidential elections next year, the National Gathering The leader, Marine le Pen, promises that “there will be no place in France where the law will not be enforced”, although it is even less clear how it will get there. In 2014, his birthday borrowed 9 million euros from the First Russian Czech Bank, in preparation for her candidacy for the 2017 presidential election, while borrowing from a French woman would have been more in line with her position of national preference vis-à-vis “others”, resist “Uncontrolled globalization”. In May, he emerged that the French Office for the Fight against Corruption had concluded that the RN had been involved in an “organized system of fraud” to appropriate funds from the European Parliament to pay party members.
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The winner in 2017, Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, projects that politics can be a good investment, as long as people are able to understand his logic and his vision to do so, aided by outsourced business consulting. The rationale for political decisions, however, is supposed to be obvious to the public. The infiltration of ‘business’ logic into politics, not limited in France, on the contrary allows a supposed expertise to legitimize decisions taken in the name of citizens rather than emanating them.
This symbiosis of economics and politics in neoliberal democracies blurs the question of who is accountable to whom. Whether political leaders appeal to the morally pure “peoples” or appeal to supposedly neutral expertise – and defenders of the latter can be called “elite” by the former – they use the same political logic, of “technopopulism”, which moves away from the traditional struggle between the left and the right. Whether real citizens own their laws, or whether they are rooted in social demands, is not so relevant to these “makers” of modern politics.
The general weakening of democratic processes in favor of a form of technocratic governance is not new: a gradual tightening of the constraints on voters to influence policies and decision-making has been initiated by the abandonment in the 1970s of the post-war model of egalitarian capitalism. Thus, the symbiosis of economics and politics has been accompanied by an increasing separation between politics and society.
However, national actors and democratic institutions still hold the power to build a political culture of accountability, to act as “intermediary bodies” between society and politics. Parliaments, political parties and the legislative process should be able to ensure effective systems of checks and balances, access to public scrutiny and the translation of political conclusions into public policies.
The domination of the executive over legislatures, legitimized by a technocratic perspective, oversimplifies the political challenges. And as long as parties continue to serve as voting machines for the selection and election of leaders, for personality-driven micro-politics, in the absence of true internal party democracy, collective consciousness and citizens’ ability to solve collective problems will remain limited to the visions of political leaders.
Responsibility and transparency
At the heart is the lack of accountability and transparency, with weakened relationships between citizens and their societies. Citizens then withdraw even further from political life and attachment to political parties, leaving them to interpret for themselves what accountability really means.
Taking democracy for granted is a trap, both for representative democracies and for European citizens. High-quality democracy requires the engagement of citizens, but also the building and sharing of trust, which in turn requires long-term political strategies and autonomous, individual and collective democratic actors.
In this sense, elections should not be the only practical tool for measuring popular consent. In an era of improved standards for granting and exercising consent, there should also be a rise in standards of accountability and a better understanding of social intermediation between the electorate, political parties and their constituencies. local constituencies, in realizing the citizens’ vision of what type of society they want to inhabit.