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02.06.2024: Elections bonanza

Sunday Summary 02-06-2024:

Last week saw the conclusion of three more elections in the veritable voting bonanza that is 2024 and all three were just as momentous as the next, in their own fashion.

Let’s start with Mexico. In a race almost guaranteed to return Mexico’s first-ever female president, Claudia Scheinbaum won a landslide 58% to 60% of the vote, handily seeing off her closest opponent Xóchitl Gálvez.

Widely seen as outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (also known as AMLO)’s protégé, the former energy scientist turned mayor of Mexico City will inherit the unenviable task of continuing her mentor’s “Fourth Transformation”: the self-styled name for AMLO’s efforts to address his country’s deep-rooted inequalities and ongoing issues with violent crime.

While the rise in minimum-wages under his tenure has been welcomed by voters, as have been questionable infrastructure projects, his enduring popularity has been equally sustained by his trademark hour-long press briefings and a widely-expanded role for the military in civil society during his time in office.

Ms. Scheinbaum presents a very different style of politics than the populist appeal of her predecessor, but at a time when Mexico’s northern neighbour seems set for their own period of electoral turmoil, now might be the perfect time for Mexico to replace its fire starter with a conciliator. After an election marred by deadly violence, the success of her presidency will likely be measured as much in lives saved as wages raised.

If Mexico’s election was notable for a great “First”, South-Africa’s will be remembered for what may be a “Last”. Mandela’s party, the party in power in the country all 30 years since the first election following apartheid, has lost its majority.

Current President Cyril Ramaphosa had to contend with low turnout and a surprisingly successful heel turn from former President Jacob Zuma’s new party, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), in a chastening loss of their majority for the African National Congress (ANC). While the party’s vote share had been in decline since 2009, not in little part due to the widespread allegations of corruptions that have sprung up under the aforementioned Zuma’s stint in power, this is the first time it finds itself in need of forming a coalition government to add to its 40% of the vote.

For nations used to coalition government, this would sound like a solid position to find partners, but for Ramaphosa it means a choice between the anti-constitutional impulses of the MK and the Marxist-Leninist Economic Freedom Fighters, or the white-led Democratic Alliance which placed second with perhaps one of the smaller parties. The first option could unleash civil and economic upheaval if those parties’ nationalisation and forced land seizures from white farmers from redistribution are put into practice, while the second option might cost the ANC even more influence with its voter base.

Yet the country is at a turning point where it can ill afford an absence of leadership. Amidst high levels of inequality, unemployment and violent crime, urgent solutions are required to prevent future power cuts and water shortages in a country increasingly feeling the effects of climate change. Yet doing this without further enflaming racial and class tensions that never quite went away since the end of apartheid in 1994 will be the challenge of a lifetime for whoever undertakes it. Choosing Zuma would mean the end for Ramaphosa: there is no love lost between the two men. Whatever the outcome, it is the beginning an unpredictable new chapter in South-African democracy.

Finally, we travel to the world’s largest democracy for the expected re-election of PM Narendra Modi and his BJP party, even if you could be forgiven for thinking it looked like more of a re-anointing on the eve of the results.

With over 900 million people eligible to vote, an Indian election is a truly mammoth undertaking. The tail end of voting coincided with sweltering heat in the north of the country, some places around the capital reaching as high as 49.9° C, with worries it could affect turnout in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, the nation’s most populous. Yet the polls still suggested a ‘Modi wave’ was imminent.

So far, nothing seems less true. Early results show a surprisingly strong showing from the united opposition coalition called ‘India’, consisting of 20 national and regional parties including the main opposition party India National Congress. While this is likely to be a worrying trend for Modi, the BJP still looks set for an over-all majority that will allow it to continue it Hindu nationalist policies which aim to reshape the secular nation as one reserved primarily for those deemed ‘true Indians’.

The party’s paramilitary wing is well-known by now for harassing Muslim citizens and Modi’s personal record while chief minister of Gujarat is nothing short of shameful. They also stand accused of weaponizing the courts against their political opponents and media outlets following the controversial arrest of prominent opposition politician Arvind Kejriwal on corruption charges and raids on the offices of BBC India in 2023.

Despite this dangerous democratic backsliding, Western leaders have been cautious in criticising Modi’s increasingly unhinged campaign rhetoric. In another iteration of the West’s longstanding (and misguided) tradition of backing foreign autocrats to counter other autocrats, Modi’s India is seen as a crucial counterweight against an assertive China in the world, especially now that it is turning away from that other nemesis, Russia, following that country’s involuntary dependency on China.

Hopefully a reinvigorated opposition following this election can prove an antidote to Modi’s toxic brand of nationalism, saving the West future embarrassing diplomatic mea culpa’s, but they are facing choppy waters ahead.

As a final goodbye, dear readers, and just because I really wanted to put this in writing myself: In New York City, former president Donald Trump has just been found guilty on 34 counts of falsification of business records with the intent of hiding another offence. The last part is crucial, since it is this element that bumps up the charges from a misdemeanour to a felony under state law. Much will be written about the fall-out, but it is good to briefly enjoy a court system doing its job before going back to the politics.

This was it for this Sunday Summary. Enjoy the rest of your week!


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