Electoral Results Reveal International Anxiety

By Timothy Spangler

May 29, 2014 6 min read

International election results this week leave the Obama administration facing many awkward questions. The polling has exposed voters' deep anxieties and lack of confidence in their future.

First, European voters have demonstrated an embarrassing rejection of Brussels and the "European experiment." The honors previously lauded on the European Union as a peacemaker and force for good, which ultimately resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, now seem only a distant memory.

Britain delivered a solid rebuke through the victory in European elections of the UK Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage. Farage is now targeting opposition Labour seats in the next general election, expected in 2015. The goal of UKIP is an in-out referendum that would be put to British voters about their future in Europe. The Conservatives have agreed to hold such a plebiscite in 2017, although both their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and the left-wing Labour Party have so far managed to dodge the question. Underlying the debate on the role of Brussels in the lives of Britons is concern over continued waves of immigration from newly admitted EU member states and whether this is improving or hindering economic growth.

The mutiny against accepted EU doctrine was seen on the Continent, as well. Notably, France saw the far-right National Front, under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, take almost 25 percent of the vote. French President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, attempted to regain momentum in the aftermath of the election by lashing out at EU bureaucrats for being "remote and incomprehensible." Denmark, Greece and Italy also saw anti-EU sentiment gain traction among voters, throwing the local political consensuses into disarray. It remains to be seen how a chastened Brussels will respond to such a clear message of dissatisfaction and disappointment.

One thing lacking is a comprehensive and impassioned defense of how immigration contributes to the growth of the economy and overall improvement of living standards. Failing to make this case effectively allows opponents of immigration to gain substantial support among frightened voters. With a similar debate over immigration now occurring in the United States, it will be difficult for American champions of reform to look to Europe for inspiration.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to put the dubious legality of its recent coup behind it, Ukraine this week elected a new president, Petro Poroshenko, in a landslide, although dissent in the Russian-speaking east of the country was still prevalent. Importantly, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not overtly interfere with the election and has made gestures that he will be willing to work with the new Ukrainian leader.

Poroshenko wasted no time in demonstrating his priorities. On his first day in power, the government launched an attack on pro-Russian positions around Donetsk. Reports of Russian fighters trying to enter Ukraine — including "40 vehicles of terrorists," according to a Ukrainian government spokesman — also circulated this week. With causalities among Russian-speaking rebels mounting, the question now is how far Putin will allow these attacks to progress before covert fighting becomes open war. Fortunately, the Russian president did actually go so far this week as to publicly compliment his Ukrainian counterpart on the quality of his chocolates. Perhaps this is the first step in a more comprehensive reconciliation between these neighboring countries, although the damage to U.S. prestige and influence in the region caused by the ineffectiveness of the Obama administration's policy on Ukraine may take considerably longer to heal.

Finally, elections this week in Egypt will go some way to determine both the future of this troubled country and the ultimate legacy of the Arab Spring. The military government has put its weight behind the former field marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who overthrew the duly elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, in July 2012. During the 11 months of military rule, Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood have been subject to a severe crackdown. Unsurprisingly, many Egyptian voters appear so unenthusiastic about their prospects that the government added a third day of voting and announced that fines of over $60 will be levied on any Egyptian citizen of voting age who did not cast a ballot.

Regardless of what form an el-Sissi government takes in the months and years to come, the case for democracy in the region has been set back a generation. Obama's tacit consent to the Egyptian coup against Morsi severely undermined America's credibility on such matters.

With the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, Obama's "lame duck" status will become more evident at home and abroad. These international elections, however, reinforce how complex the challenges facing the United States are, both for the current occupant of the White House and for his successor. Unfortunately, these questions will only become more difficult the longer they are left unanswered.

Timothy Spangler is a writer and commentator who divides his time between Los Angeles and London. His radio show, "The Bigger Picture with Timothy Spangler," airs every Sunday night from 10 p.m. to midnight Pacific time on KRLA AM 870. To find out more about Timothy Spangler and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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