WWN 15# – You’re next France! The rise of populists and populism

“The Populist: A member of the political party claiming to represent the common people” – Merriam-Webster

What’s Been Happening?

There’s a new trend in town and that’s populism. Ever since the global financial crisis hit in 2008, its rise in politics has been increasingly evident.

  • UK – one of the largest economies in the EU who have voted and passed the Brexit motion. A right-wing populist political party known as UK Independence Party can be thanked for, as their anti-immigration and anti-EU message influenced a lot of the Brits who voted in the referendum in June 2016.
  • US – As Donald Trump said in his inaugural address, “If I rule, the people rule”. His election promises make it clear that he was a crowd pleaser especially with his anti-establishment and tough-on-immigration message which saw him win the election against Clinton. It’s interesting to note that his two attempts at a travel ban hasn’t worked in his favour though.
  • Italy – Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi handed in his resignation following a big defeat in a referendum on constitutional changes in December last year. The vote became a referendum on himself after he – rashly, in hindsight – promised to resign if the vote went against him. The anti-establishment Five Star is another populist movement and has already pledged to hold a referendum to withdraw Italy from the EU.

What Now?

France hit the polls on the weekend and the list of presidential candidates was cut from eleven to two. Over the past few years, France has been dealing with a lagging economy, an influx of migrants and refugees and quite a few terrorist attacks. Its people recognise that it’s time for change and that includes populism.

Two Candidate Showdown:

  • Marine Le Pen – A populist who has, like the other populists, centred her campaign on an exit from the EU and a temporary immigration ban.
  • Emmanuel Macron – On the other hand, Macron wants to stay in the EU and welcome immigration. Although he is a political novice as he has never held elected office and only founded his party a year ago, he edged in front of Marine Le Pen in the first round of voting.

What’s Next?

The two candidates will face each other in the May 7 runoff with polls suggesting that Mr Macron will beat Ms Le Pen around 60 percent to 40 percent. With the country’s two main parties crashing out of the first round, the defeated contenders called on their supporters to rally behind Mr Macron as they agreed that Le Pen’s nationalist anti-EU and anti-immigration politics would spell disaster for France. As defeated conservative candidate Francois Fillon said, “Extremism can only bring misfortune and division to France”.

With a lot of other member countries having elections coming up soon (Germany, Spain and Netherlands), this could be the beginning of the end for the EU.


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