13 Mar Top 8 Global Political Stories to Watch this Spring (Besides Brexit…)
We’ve had an extraordinary political year so far in 2017 & I think it’ll continue to be a very exciting one, possibly dramatic. Here’s my highlights to watch out for in the next couple of months:
15th March: Holland goes to the polls and commentators say that it looks increasingly as though any winning party may have to seriously consider a coalition with right-wing Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party. The anti-Islam leader of the Dutch far right has vowed to shut mosques and ban the Koran should he win on Wednesday. I don’t think he will because of the coalition system in Holland, but it’ll be interesting to see whether the sort of anti-establishment, anti-immigrant mood is playing through the first big election of the year.
If he does get into power it may not be great news for Christians. He’s fighting against freedom of religion and that’ll impact Churches too.
26th March: Hong Kong elects its chief executive this month. China vets the candidates, much to the disgust of the very strong-willed democrats in Hong Kong who would like Hong Kong to be fully democratic by now, have greater autonomy and in some cases outright independence from China which is causing a lot of tension. The attention from Beijing has raised concerns here about encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy and prompted criticism from the city’s Christians. Hong Kong’s vibrant Christian community has long been a magnet for mainland Chinese visitors. Tens of thousands of people cross the border each year for Sunday school, seminars and megachurch gatherings in this former British colony, which enjoys greater freedoms, including religious liberties, than the mainland. But as the government of President Xi Jinping has stepped up efforts to limit the influence of Christianity in the mainland, including a controversial campaign to take down crosses in parts of eastern China, the activities of some of Hong Kong’s churches have come under official scrutiny. A spiritual revival has swept through China in recent decades; the Communist Party, which is officially atheist, has generally grown more tolerant of people exercising their faith outside party-controlled churches and temples. Christianity is China’s fastest-growing religion, with at least 67 million followers, many of whom worship in independent, underground or unofficial churches, often with the acquiescence of the government.
15th April: Activists will be protesting all over the United States to put pressure on President Donald Trump into releasing his tax returns. During his election campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to release his returns.
However, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said last month that he no longer planned to do so because “people don’t care.” That inspired the calls for a protest on 15th April, which would normally be tax day, but because it falls on a Saturday and Emancipation Day follows, taxes will actually be due on 18th April this year.
16th April: Turkey will vote in a referendum on new draft constitution to create an executive presidency, which would significantly increase the powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He’d be able to issue decrees nearly impossible for parliament to overturn, while having oversight on budgets, judicial appointments and cabinet assignments. Parliament would lose its right to scrutinise ministers or propose an enquiry. A win would extend Mr Erdogan’s power at a time when Turkey is contending with terrorist attacks, instability in neighbouring Syria and an unstable economy. The additional powers would give him the tools to reshape the Nato ally into the country he envisaged in the early days of his premiership: a republic with Islamist ideals supported by a loyal state apparatus.
It’s feared that if Erdogan gets more power, the country will slide into authoritarianism. Turkey is already the world’s biggest jailer of journalists and a country where some 140,000 people have been arrested, dismissed or suspended since the failed coup last year.
Last year Turkey’s Islamist government stepped up its war on Christianity by seizing all the churches in one city and declaring them state property. Unlike Christian churches which are maintained by the generosity of their congregations, all mosques in Turkey are state-backed and funded, meaning their futures are secure. A report published last month by the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches warns that persecution and hate speech against Christians of all denominations increased significantly throughout the country in the last year.
23rd April/7th May: France is gearing up to next month’s Presidential elections. This two-part race, with the first round taking place on 23rd April and the second on 7th May, will be fascinating. This really is the big one. If far right leader Marine Le Pen were to win, it would probably take France out of the euro and she’ll instigate talks of a Frexit referendum which could conceivably take France out of the EU. If that happens it’s the end of the EU – so potentially a truly earth-shattering event not just for France, but for the wider Europe as well. Marine Le Pen takes great encouragement from what happened in America and believes that again, this anti-establishment, unconventional politics will put her in a position as never before perhaps to actually win. What’s happened in the past in France is that when a National Front candidate gets through to the run-off stage whether that be in the 2002 presidential election with her father [Jean-Marie Le Pen] against Jacques Chirac or whether it’s in regional election this year or parliamentary elections, the mainstream parties combine together to keep out the National Front and that is still the conventional wisdom.
I think Marine Le Pen could win through to the second-round run-off stage, although the maverick former Economy Minister, Emmanuel Macron, is also running as an independent and seems to be the riding high in the polls (if polls are to trusted anymore).
François Fillon’s campaign seems to be collapsing, after he announced that he would soon be put under formal judicial investigation for alleged misuse of public funds. Christians in France aren’t happy about claims that the centre-right presidential candidate had allegedly pocketed €880,000 in state funds by employing his wife Penelope and children in fictitious jobs as aides. Whilst France is a secular country, about two-thirds of French people declare themselves to be Catholic, 43 per cent of whom say they actually go to church. The more conservative among them have felt under attack lately. They protested against gay marriage legislation passed by President François Hollande and they fear about the growing influence of Islam, an anxiety made more acute by a wave of Islamist terror attacks on French soil. Mr Fillon is a practicing Catholic. He included a chapter on his Catholic faith in the book which launched his candidacy over one year ago. In a country where the debate on abortion has been seen as “settled” for decades, he shocked the Paris commentariat by publicly announcing his personal disapproval of abortion – something unheard of for a presidential candidate in contemporary France. He’s attracted many of these voters partly because he vowed to restore high ethical standards in politics. Despite the scandal, he is still their preferred candidate.
29th April: The 100th day of Trump’s presidency. News stations around the world will be fixated with this, running stories about what he’s achieved and what gaffs he’s made so far.
30th April: Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) will hold its leadership contest on 30th April, a decision that effectively rules out any snap national election in June. Italy has a caretaker government in place which may take them through to 2018, but there could be an election this year. Former prime minister Matteo Renzi resigned as party secretary general last month to open the way for a re-election battle that he hopes will see grass-roots members rally to his cause. Renzi quit as premier in December after a crushing defeat in a referendum on his constitutional reform drive and handed over the reins of power to his political ally Paolo Gentiloni. He has called for national elections to be brought forward to June from the scheduled 2018, eager for a swift return to high office. With that in mind, he wanted to wrap up the PD leadership vote in early April to enable a snap ballot. Italy, of course is fragile economically, it has huge debt second only to Greece as a share of GDP in the eurozone and very dodgy, wobbly banks, particularly Monte Dei Paschi Di Sienna. So Italy is a country that along with Greece could bring the eurozone crisis back with a vengeance and if it happened in Italy, of course it would be much much bigger and much much harder to deal with.
4th May: Mid-term local and mayoral elections on 4th May across England, Wales and Scotland may not change much materially speaking, but they will provide an important bellwether of support for Theresa May’s government. Expect UKIP and the Liberal Democrats to push hard, and we will see how both Labour and the Conservatives do in their heartlands.