Reading recommendation: Populism and democracy

The online publication the Conversation recently started an informative and interesting series on the phenomena of populism.

The series also includes contributions and analysis from members of our research unit on democracy and democratization at the WZB.

In the latest post of the series, which sets out to explore the origins of the rise of populism and its complex relationship with democracy Thamy Pogrebinschi, John Keane and Wolfgang Merkel contributed their perspectives on the recent or not so recent development of rising populism in democracies. Below you will find the short contributions of the three. If you are interested in what the other contributers had to say you should check out the above hyperlinks to the original post on the Conversation.

Thamy Pogrebinschi sets out to differentiate variants of contemporary populisms and concludes that rather than an ideology populism itself serves as a politically empty cocoon that ultimately is characterised by its appeal to popular souvereignity and actually points to the underlying problematique of capitalism and democracy. She writes:

The concept of populism is highly contestable, but clarifying the difference between its left-wing and right-wing variants is both the best and the worst starting point for making sense of its contours.

Populism is not an ideology. Yet populism of the left and populism of the right produce different sets of ideas, identities and effects. Populism can be so politically empty that it joins forces with ideologies as different as socialism and nationalism. Populist discourses can thus favour exclusion, or inclusion.

The experiences of Latin America and Europe illustrate this difference well. In Latin America, populism has tried to include workers and middle class citizens socially dislocated by capitalism. In contemporary Europe, populism is attempting to exclude people dislocated by wars, and by capitalism in different parts of the world.

In both cases, however, the appeal to popular sovereignty exposes the deep tension between democracy and capitalism. We should therefore care less about definitions, and ask the real question: is representative democracy now so overshadowed by capitalism that it is no longer able to make room for the popular sovereignty upon which it was founded?

John Keane highlights the historical dimension of the complex and problematic relationship between democracy and populism going back to the greek concept ‚dēmokrateo‘ concluding that what is necessary to tackle today’s populist movements is a radikal egalitarian and redistributive turn in order top restore faith in our democracies. He writes:

Ancient Greeks knew democracy could be snuffed out by rich and powerful aristoi backed by demagogues ruling the people in their own name. They even had a verb (now obsolete) for describing how people are ruled while seeming to rule. They called it dēmokrateo. It’s the word we need for making sense of the contradiction that cuts through contemporary populism.

Populism is a democratic phenomenon. Mobilised through available democratic freedoms, it’s a public protest by millions of people (the demos) who feel annoyed, powerless, no longer “held” in the arms of society.

The analyst D W Winnicott used the term to warn that people who feel dropped strike back. That’s the populist moment when humiliated people lash out in support of demagogues promising them dignity. They do so not because they “naturally” crave leaders, or yield to the inherited “fascism in us all”.

Populism attracts people because it raises their expectations of betterment. But there’s a price. In exchange for promises of popular sovereignty, populism easily mass produces figures like Napoleon Bonaparte, Benito Mussolini, Viktor Orbán and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

And in contrast to the 19th-century populist politics of enfranchisement, today’s populism has exclusionary effects. The dēmokrateo of it all isn’t stoppable by anodyne calls for “dialogue”, or false hopes populism will somehow burn itself out. What’s needed is something more radically democratic: a new politics of equitable redistribution of power, wealth and life chances that shows populism to be a form of counterfeit democracy.

Once upon a time, such political redistribution was called “democracy”, or “welfare state”, or “socialism”.

Wolfgang Merkel argues that the emerging right wing populism in Europe has three main causes: (1) discontent with European integration; (2) economic exclusion; (3) disaffection and fear of influx of migrants. He thus sees the rise of right wing populism as a rebellion of the disenfranchised and concludes that politicians from established political parties should aim to listen to the disenfrenchised and grant them a voice. He writes:

From a normative standpoint, things are clear: cosmopolitans who uphold equality, global justice, ethno-religious tolerance and human rights cannot accept right-wing populism. Nationalism, chauvinism, ethno-religious intolerance are incommensurable with the values of an open and tolerant society.

Things are less clear when we try to explain the rise of right-wing populist parties. People who belong to the enlightened, cosmopolitan, middle and upper classes often argue that right-wing populism is the result of a demagoguery that is especially attractive to uneducated people from the lower classes. This explanation is not just inadequate; it bespeaks arrogant ignorance.

Right-wing populism in Europe has three causes: a general discontent with European integration; economic exclusion; and disaffection and fear of a large influx of migrants and refugees. Large swathes of the lower middle class complain of their exclusion from public discourse. The neo-liberal version of globalisation and the general failure of the moderate left to address the distributive question have created feelings of impotence and marginalisation among the lower classes.

Right-wing populism is thus a rebellion of the disenfranchised. The establishment parties have arguably committed serious political errors. It’s high time that they leave their fortress of normative arrogance and grant a democratic voice to the non-represented. If they fail to do so, right-wing populists will transform our democracies: they will become more parochial, intolerant and polarised.

 

The Conversation kindly allowed us to repost the above statements. Here is the link to the original post.

The Suspension of the Recall Referendum in Venezuela

This post is a guest contribution by Laura Gamboa from Utah State University and Raul A. Sanchez Urribarri from La Trobe University, Melbourne.

For a couple of years now, Venezuela has been going through a severe crisis: it has the world’s highest inflation, increasing scarcity, rising crime and deepening authoritarianism. In order to address the crisis, the coalition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) –which groups the country’s most important opposition parties and won the 2015 Legislative elections—has been pushing, since June, for a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. After allowing different stages of the referendum to move forward, on October 21st, the Venezuelan Electoral Council (CNE) suspended the process. This controversial decision followed a series of lower courts’ rulings in the states of Carabobo, Apure, Aragua and Bolívar, in response to lawsuits introduced by ruling-party (PSUV) governors accusing the opposition of committing fraud in earlier steps of the process, that had already been verified and accepted by the CNE. Moreover, after this decision, several opposition leaders were barred from leaving the country by another judicial order. These moves garnered condemnations from the opposition and the international community, fuelling fears that Venezuela is on the path of becoming a full-fledged dictatorship.

How Did Venezuela Get to the Recall Referendum in the First Place?  

For several years now, Venezuela has been a competitive authoritarian regime. The government has a nominal commitment to liberal-democratic institutions, including elections, freedom of expression and association, independent courts, and so forth. However, as several observers and scholars of Venezuelan politics have shown, the regime systematically manipulates and restricts dissent.[1] This trend has become even worse under President Maduro, the less charismatic successor to President Hugo Chavez (who replaced him in 2013 after his death). Under Maduro’s rule, the regime has become even more autocratic. It has imprisoned political opponents with the collaboration of a politicized judiciary, circumvent the authority of democratically elected officers and, more worryingly, increased the presence of the military in the government[2] causing great concern at home and abroad.

In the midst of the worst economic and security crisis that the country has seen in decades the opposition has taken important steps towards regime change. Because it is a competitive, rather than a fully authoritarian regime, in Venezuela, defeating the government via elections albeit hard, is still an alternative. Building on a string of successful inclusive alliances, and having been accustomed to solving their differences through functional internal mechanisms, the once heavily-fragmented MUD now poses a serious threat to Chavismo’s electoral dominance. In December 2015, they won two thirds of the National Assembly; they control some of the most important municipal and state governments in the country, and there is a strong likelihood that they could win even more posts in the next ‘regional’ elections, given Maduro’s lack of popularity and the PSUV’s low numbers in recent polls.

MUD’s most serious threat, however, has been the recall referendum –a constitutional provision that allows 20% of the electorate to request the removal of an unpopular President. Up until a couple of weeks ago, the government’s response to this threat had been to delay the referendum. In the past months, the CNE engaged in a series of dawdling tactics that slowed down the process, taking considerable time to organize a preliminary signature-collection needed to activate the referendum and to make key decisions regarding its schedule. This is unsurprising, since the CNE’s neutrality has long been perceived as compromised by the opposition and international observers (all members but one are perceived as pro-government), and so has been the Supreme Court’s (notorious for its activist protection of the government’s interests.[3])

These tactics make sense as a power-preservation strategy: According to article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, if the referendum took place before January 10, 2017, Maduro would have had to resign and call for elections. If it happened afterwards, he would still have had to resign, but his vice-president could finish his term (2013-2019). The fact that the referendum would be delayed until 2017 was very likely from the onset. Although the MUD had been working hard to hold the referendum in 2016, it was quite possible that the CNE and other state institutions (particularly the pro-government Supreme Court) could delay it long enough to be held after January 2017. Thus, the move to stop the electoral contest is particularly puzzling, given that the delaying tactics appeared to be a less costly mechanism for Chavistas to remain in power.

Although blocking the referendum raised concerns, so far, the government had gotten away with an ever-feeble, yet still important, “democratic façade.” Although Chavismo has become more authoritarian after Chávez passed away, and its legitimacy has been significantly eroded in recent months, it has been difficult for the opposition movement and its allies to build support against the regime internationally. For a long time, the government had substantial electoral legitimacy at home and abroad: Chavismo won most elections under Chavez’s rule, accepted the results of the legislative elections in 2015, and frequently strived to nominally comply with constitutional norms, in order to keep appearances. Hindering a recall referendum that, clearly most Venezuelans want, falls outside this trend, and could undermine the government’s already weakening international legitimacy.

Additionally, the referendum is a constitutional and peaceful mechanism to remove Maduro from the presidency and commence a transition to democracy. Unless the economic and security situation improves overnight, stopping the referendum risks political violence, that could end in a forceful removal from power, as the opposition movement might resort to non-legal means to increase pressure on the incumbent regime. In light of these costs, and the fact that the government could have manipulated the electoral rules just enough to push the referendum beyond January 2017 and stay in power, why stop the process altogether?

There are at least two non-exclusive reasons that seem to be behind the move by the authorities to stop the referendum. First, the Maduro regime is trying to increase its leverage for a dialogue with the opposition, pushing them to negotiate concessions in exchange for regime change (such as amnesty, guarantees for political participation, assets protection, and so forth). Before October, there were few visible attempts to initiate negotiations between Chavistas and the MUD. Yet, these attempts were unsuccessful, due to strong criticism within the opposition coalition from a sector that until now –at least openly– refuses to negotiate with the government.

Secondly the regime might want to stop the referendum in order to avoid a transition to democracy altogether. Several key PSUV leaders have denied the possibility of a referendum, including Maduro himself, former chair of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello, and others. More worryingly, this move could, reflect changes inside the government coalition, in particular the strengthening of hardliners and the already powerful military. It is well known that the latter has benefited immensely from the regime, receiving major economic benefits from their presence in major state operations –including the state-owned oil company PDVSA—and has been able to run corruption and drug trafficking schemes with impunity.[4]  A removal of the current Maduro regime,, regardless of whether it happens with a referendum or not, would likely deprive the military from such benefits. Additionally, officers could face criminal prosecution in a future regime. Hence, the military establishment might feel it has more to lose than to gain from a successful transition to democracy. It might be in their best interest to stop the recall referendum. Unlike the civilian faction of Chavismo, which fears an uprising or a coup, the armed forces have direct control of weaponry, military staff and even members inside the courts.[5] They can engage in repression and clamp down on any potential social mobilization or protest.

Despite Maduro´s recent attempts to engage in a dialogue with the opposition, the mentioned worrisome scenarios cannot be discarded. Until a clear commitment to the referendum is made and an institutional path to regime change is preserved and respected, the suspension of the referendum might well block the possibility of a peaceful transition to democracy.

If the Referendum’s Path is Blocked, What is Next?

Consistent with the opposition’s non-violent mixed strategy of protests and elections, its response to the government’s decision to stop the referendum has been twofold. First, it called for pacific demonstrations asking the government to return to a “constitutional path,” replace justices and members of the CNE, and allow the referendum or early elections to take place. Second, some of its leaders agreed to participate in a dialogue with the government, with mediation of the Vatican and UNASUR. Although the talks are currently in course, for the time being, they have established a venue for discussion and negotiation between the government and the MUD.

The opposition’s strategy, however, is fraught with risks. On the one hand, the demonstrations could turn violent and give the government an excuse to call off the dialogues and escalate repression. On the other hand, the dialogue could be used by the government to catch its breath and stifle the momentum the opposition has had since last year, allowing it to postpone the referendum, creating more tensions within the opposition coalition, and eliminating the only escape valve available to channel popular discontent in Venezuela so far. The fact that the dialogue could backfire and strengthen Maduro’s embattled government, is in fact a possibility that seriously worries an important sector of the opposition and even some external observers.

Whether this happens or not, will largely depend on the international community willingness to pressure the incumbent government to negotiate, as well as the ability of the opposition to remain united, use the street protests strategically to increase the pressure for an agreement, and –simultaneously—accept some concessions towards the Chavista regime. A proper analysis of the dialogue process, will be contingent on how the coming days unfold. In the mean time, it behoves comparative scholars and international observers to follow the crisis in Venezuela and pay close attention to its development and still uncertain prospects.

 

References

[1] Corrales, Javier. „Autocratic legalism in Venezuela.“ Journal of Democracy 26.2 (2015): 37-51.

[2] Kornblith, Miriam. „Chavismo After Chávez?.“ Journal of Democracy 24.3 (2013): 47-61.

[3] Sanchez Urribarri, Raul A. „Courts between democracy and hybrid authoritarianism: evidence from the Venezuelan Supreme Court.“ Law & Social Inquiry 36.4 (2011): 854-884, Corrales, Javier. „Autocratic legalism in Venezuela.“ Journal of Democracy 26.2 (2015): 37-51

[4] Corrales, Javier “Explaining Chavismo: The Unexpected Alliance of Radical Leftists and the Military in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez” in Ricardo Hausmann and Francisco Rodríguez eds. Venezuela Before Chávez: Anatomy of an Economic Collapse. Univerity Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014.

[5] Trinkunas, Harold A. Crafting CivilianCcontrol of the Military in Venezuela: A Comparative Perspective. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Call for papers – Special issue of Politics and Governance: “Why choice matters: Revisiting and comparing measures of democracy”

post by special issue guest editors Dr. Heiko Giebler (WZB Berlin Social Science Center, heiko.giebler@wzb.eu); Dr. Saskia Ruth (University of Zurich, saskia.ruth@zda.uzh.ch); Dag Tanneberg (University of Potsdam, dag.tanneberg@uni-potsdam.de)

This peer-reviewed special issue of Politics & Governance (an open-access journal) invites articles that compare at least two widely used measures of democracy to discuss one or more of the following topics: (1) differences in theoretical grounding and conceptualization of democracy; (2) differences in data choice and/or the effects of different rules of aggregation; or (3) how different measures of democracy impact substantive research questions. Whereas other publications have summarized the field of democracy measurement in broad strokes, this special issue will help scholars to make more informed choices between alternative measures of democracy for their own research program. 

Timeline:
Deadline for proposals: December 31st, 2016
Deadline for 1st drafts: May 25th, 2017
Authors workshop: early June 2017
Deadline for final submissions: September 2017
Publication of the special issue: February 2018

Content:
Over the past 25 years, the field of democracy measurement has grown tremendously. The continued scientific and public demand for measures of democracy generated an unprecedented wealth of measurement instruments all aiming to capture democracy. Yet, summarizing the development of the field since the 1960s Bollen (1991, 4) found scant evidence for a “smooth evolution towards clear theoretical definitions and finely calibrated instruments”. One decade later Munck and Verkuilen (2002, 28) still concluded that “no single index offers a satisfactory response to all three challenges of conceptualization, measurement, and aggregation”. But all is certainly not lost in measuring democracy. Rather, scholars have incorporated much of the critique. As a result, social sciences enjoy a vast supply of high quality approaches to measuring democracy. Today, the challenge is less to select a sound index of democracy and more to understand the theoretical and methodological differences between them.

This special issue in Politics & Governance (peer-reviewed and open access; indexing: Web of Science (ESCI), Scopus, and other databases) aims to provide a comprehensive evaluation of those differences in order to help scholars make more informed choices between alternative measures of democracy. It invites papers that analyze and discuss the substantive consequences of differences between at least two widely used measures of democracy. The list of measures includes but is not limited to Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI), Democracy Barometer, Democracy & Dictatorship, Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index, Freedom House, Polity IV, Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI), Unified Democracy Scores (UDS), Vanhanen, V-Dem, Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), etc. Contributed articles should deal with at least one of the following three topics:

(1) Differences in theoretical grounding and conceptualization of democracy measures
The conceptual differences between graded measures of democracy are seldom in the focus of research. However, these can be quite substantial as in the cases of the Democracy Barometer and the Unified Democracy Scores. Whereas the former advances a detailed conceptualization of democracy, the latter projects several different indices of democracy unto a single latent variable. Alternatively, some measures follow a minimalistic definition of democracy while others go as far as including outcomes of democratic rule. What do such differences mean for theoretical grounding, conceptualization, and empirical analyses in democracy related research? Which measures can and should be used for which substantive research questions?

(2) Differences in data choice and rules of aggregation
On the one hand much in measuring democracy revolves around the nature and scaling of appropriate indicators. For instance, one key debate pits observables against expert judgments (Alvarez et al. 1996, Ulfelder 2006, Schedler 2012). But, do observables make better or do they merely make different data? Conversely, do expert judgments achieve higher validity or are they just biased in different ways? On the other hand, existing measures of democracy differ tremendously in their aggregation rules, ranging from necessary and sufficient conditions (Democracy & Dictatorship) to weighted sums (Freedom House, Polity IV, Democracy Barometer), and latent variable measurement models (UDS, V-DEM). What substantive differences do those alternatives imply? Can we in fact achieve greater confidence in empirical results by varying rules of aggregation (Munck and Verkuilen 2002, 25)?

(3) How different measures of democracy impact substantive research questions
Using Freedom House and Polity IV data, Casper and Tufis (2003) demonstrate that the choice of index matters for the study of democratization even though both measures are highly correlated. Do those discrepancies exist when using the Vanhanen, V-DEM, UDS, or Democracy Barometer data, too? Moreover, do they affect results in other important areas of research such as the domestic democratic peace, economic growth, and international conflict behavior? Valid contributions also include replication studies of influential publications using different measures of democracy.

Instructions for Authors
Authors interested in submitting a paper for this special issue are kindly requested to consult the journal’s editorial policies (here). Please send an abstract of about 250 words to any of the guest editors by December 31, 2016 latest. The guest editors will contact prospective contributors in late January 2017 with more detailed information. A two-day authors’ workshop is scheduled for early June 2017 and it will take place in either Berlin or Zurich. The guest editors are in the process of acquiring funds for covering travelling and accommodation costs.
Finally, interested authors are kindly requested to check that their institutions are able to cover open access publication costs of EUR 800. If an institution cannot cover the publication costs, the guest editors will provide assistance to acquire alternative funding.

 

References
Alvarez, Michael, Jose Antonio Cheibub, Adam Przeworski, and Fernando Limongi. 1996. „Classifying Political Regimes.“ Studies in Comparative International Development 31 (2):3–36.

Bollen, Kenneth A. 1991. „Political Democracy: Conceptual and Measurement Traps.“ In On measuring democracy, edited by Alex Inkeles, 3-20. New Brunswick; London: Transaction Publishers.

Casper, Gretchen, and Claudiu Tufis. 2003. „Correlation Versus Interchangeability: The Limited Robustness of Empirical Findings on Democracy Using Highly Correlated Data Sets.“ Political Analysis 11 (2):196–203.

Munck, Gerardo L., and Jay Verkuilen. 2002. „Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy.“ Comparative Political Studies 35 (1):5–34.

Schedler, Andreas. 2012. „Judgment and Measurement in Political Science.“ Perspectives on Politics 10 (1):21–36.

Ulfelder, Jay. 2006. „Do „Observables“ Really Produce Better Data?: Problems with the PACL Data Set for the Analysis of Regime Survival.“ http://ssrn.com/abstract=1707362.

Brexit: Risk and fun of majority rule and direct democracy

Listening to the news on the morning of the 23rd of July 2016 was a surprise for many. In a public discussion the previous evening, Wolfgang Merkel and Michael Zürn, both directors at the WZB Social Science Research Center, had expected a vote for “remain”, not “leave,” in line with TV and other sources. What is worrisome is not that the prognoses were wrong but the outcome.

17.410.742 voted “leave”, 16.141.241 “remain”. This is a majority for “leave”. However, to be clear: this isn’t a decision of the majority at all. Only 34,4 percent of eligible voters voted for „leave“. This is little more than a third. About 91,6 percent registered to vote, which is 4.279.182 fewer than all eligible voters. This is lower than the Alternative Vote referendum of 2011 (93,0 %) and much lower than the European Community (Common Market) Membership Referendum of 1975 (99,5%).Turnout among registered voters was 72,2 percent. Even if we calculate solely on the basis of registered voters, only 37,4 of those registered voted for “leave”.

For a country that advertises its own majoritarian electoral system as democratically superior to proportional representation, it seems to be acceptable to execute a decision supported only by a minority. If we take majority decisions seriously, however, it follows that there should be a positive absolute majority of eligible voters. This certainly does not require that registration and turnout amount to 100 percent. In the Brexit referendum, it would have meant that about 25,39 million voters, or 75,7 percent of those registered, would have had to vote for “leave” in order to speak of a majority in a substantial sense. A majority of the entire membership is a requirement in many decision-bodies for changing the status quo. And leaving the EU is certainly a fundamental change of the situation of the UK.

Although a margin of almost 1,3 million votes for “leave” seems to be enough to conform to the classic British position of a majority victory, it seems problematic given the considerable opposition to the exit. There are at least three fundamental splits: a regional, a rural-urban, and a generational one.

Regionally, in Scotland all constituencies had a majority for “remain”; England, Wales, and Northern Ireland showed differences between constituencies. England and Wales voted in favor of exit, Northern Ireland for “remain”. A second split is between rural and urban areas. In most urban districts, in particular in and around the bigger cities above 250 thousand inhabitants, a majority voted for “remain”. The third split is between young and old. According to data from polls, 57 percent of voters of age 65 and higher voted for “leave”. They represent 17 percent of the population. Among the voters below 65, about 44 percent voted for “leave”. If the older voters had voted in the same proportion as the younger, “leave” votes would have been about 14,7 million instead of 17,4 million. That would not have been enough.

The UK now is facing a split between Scotland and the South, urban and rural areas, and young and old. The older citizens were decisive for a decision affecting a much longer future than they themselves will be affected by.

Against this background, making use of representative democracy would probably not be the worst solution. The Parliament can still decide. Whatever the decision will be, there is a clear lesson for direct democracy: get the rules right so that majority does not in fact mean minority.

Table: Turnout and Result of Brexit Referendum for Votes, Registered Voters, and Eligible Voting Population

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 15.27.05

 

The European Union: Too much democracy, too little or both?

By Richard Rose

This blog post was originally posted on the Oxford University Press.

In a symbolic gesture toward creating an ever closer Union, the EuropeanUnion conferred citizenship on everyone who was also a subject of one of its member states. However, the rights of European citizens are more like those of subjects of a the pre-1914 Germain Kaiser than of a 21st century European democracy. Citizens have the right to vote for members of the European Parliament (EP) but this does not make the EU’s governors accountable as is the case in a normal parliamentary democracy. The result is a democratic deficit. Weiterlesen

„Is capitalism compatible with democracy?“ Vortrag von Wolfgang Merkel in Lissabon

Unter dem provokanten Titel „Is capitalism compatible with democracy?“ hat Wolfgang Merkel am 6. November einen Vortrag am Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE) gehalten. Die Veranstaltung wurde von ISCTE und der Friedrich Ebert Stiftung organisiert.

Die Folien und das Video des Vortrages findet ihr hier.

Interview with Wolfgang Merkel: Democracies and their Crises Reconsidered

Jean-Paul Gagnon (Australian Catholic University) interviews Wolfgang Merkel on the state of democratic theory, democratic quality and crises. The interview will soon be published in the forthcoming book by Jean-Paul Gagnon, Democracies Across Dialogues: Presents, Pasts and Futures.

Weiterlesen

Towards the End of the left / right Paradigm

With the rise of populism on both sides of the political scpectrum, raising new oppositions, is the traditional left/right political divide still relevant to understand contemporary European societies? Four experts from Europe and beyond answer this critical question.

This commentary was first published in QUERIES, Spring 2015, p. 27-31

Weiterlesen

In Search of Lost Consensus: Finnish Politics Four Years after the „jytky“

Saara Inkinen, Research Fellow of the Research Unit Democracy and Democratization

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, the ceding Prime Minister Alexander Stubb was asked to reflect upon his time in office with an eye to the upcoming Finnish parliamentary elections on April 19. His response was as short as it was poignant: his premiership had been a „traumatic experience“.[i] Looking back on the four years that have passed since the last parliamentary elections in 2011, it is not difficult to see what prompted Stubb to make this statement. Finnish politics has traditionally been guided by the principle of consensus, which has allowed political elites across the left-right spectrum to reach pragmatic compromises on core societal issues. Yet the past parliamentary term has been anything but consensual. Not only has the coalition government been torn by internal disagreements almost since the day of its inception; it has also proven incapable of taking much-needed political action to combat a shrinking economy, rising unemployment rates and a state budget deficit that is predicted to swell to 124 billion Euros in the coming years. In short, Stubb’s cabinet is at real risk to go down in history as one of the worst governments the country has ever had.

Weiterlesen

The Game is not over: There is more than Protests and Football going on in Brazil

All eyes are now turned to Brazil, the „country of football“, which happens to host this year’s World Cup. Weeks before the start of the tournament, international newspapers were already filling their pages with articles about Brazil’s purported many problems: inequality, poverty, criminality, corruption, and massive protests all over. Television programs also featured infrastructure deficiencies everywhere, making the audience wonder whether international football stars would get stuck on unfinished roads and airports, besides facing the poor living conditions supposedly faced by Brazilian people every day. The sunny beaches and the beautiful tropical landscape have surely also been broadcasted, contrasted with sad images from the country’s many favelas and slums. In almost all means of communications, journalists spent weeks doing political analysis just as well as they did football predictions. Weiterlesen