8 January 2017
Lots of people would’ve regarded 2016 as a turbulent year politically. Australia began the year with a Federal election coming, and after it came and went, the Liberal-National Coalition Government only just won. It governs with a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, and can’t pass legislation without support from a bigger number of crossbenchers in the Senate. But this election was only part of the year’s events.
Among the crossbenchers with whom the Coalition must at least consider dealing with is the long-derided Pauline Hanson, elected to Parliament this year after many failed attempts to win a seat over many years. Although widely ridiculed and hated, she has much support among unhappy voters who fear losing their jobs and feel somewhat like aliens in their own country. And they often blame political and business leaders, and immigrants, for their ills.
Despite the close election result, the Coalition managed to pass some legislation with support from enough Senate crossbenchers. But it’s still struggling to get support to reduce public sector debt. And it’s rumoured that some Coalition MPs might break away, because they distrust the motives and beliefs of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Mind you, at the moment I don’t see this or any other issues potentially bringing down Turnbull, or the Coalition, so I don’t see an election coming earlier than when it’s due, in 2019. As such, the state of Australian politics doesn’t seem too bad.
But I can’t help wondering if 2017 will make 2016 appear less turbulent. Notwithstanding the events in Australia, there was more turbulence elsewhere in the world in 2016. In the context of both years, however, I expect more global tremors to come. If you consider 2016 turbulent, politics might get rougher in 2017.
The main talking point at the end of 2016 was in the United States of America, where elected as President, against most expectations, was larger-than-life businessman and loudmouth Donald Trump, of the Republican Party. In a presidential election in November, Trump comfortably defeated veteran politician Hillary Clinton, of the Democratic Party. Trump was a political “outsider” running against an “insider”, and a distrusted one at that, but few tipped him to win, because of his tendency to offend and upset people everywhere, which happened a lot both before and during the election campaign. Despite this, he won, shocking both his country and the world, and leaving many wondering how it could happen.
In US elections, presidential candidates don’t strictly need to win more votes than their rivals across the country. They just need to win more votes than their rivals on a state-by-state basis, and ideally in bigger states. And wins in some bigger states enabled Trump to defeat Clinton.
I watched the election on television, following the coverage of it for hours. As a pundit, I’d tipped Trump to win two states from Clinton, namely small Iowa and big Ohio, but I’d also tipped him to lose big North Carolina to Clinton – hence a clear win for Clinton. After many hours, Trump looked to have held North Carolina, and gained not only Iowa and Ohio but also big Florida, always a battleground state at election time. But even with those extra states, Trump still looking like losing.
What I didn’t see coming was Trump defeating Clinton in three big states, Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – states not won by the Republicans since the 1980s. These states’ votes got Trump home.
It seemed like voter anger with established politicians, including Clinton, was greater than doubts about Trump. And many backing Trump feared for their future, largely blaming business and politicians for their ills – similar to Hanson backers in Australia.
Outside the US, the other shock of 2016 occurred across the Atlantic Ocean. It might’ve surrounded only a referendum, rather than an election, but it was still significant.
Voters in the United Kingdom were asked to choose whether to leave or remain in the European Union, which enabled people to travel and business to operate with more freedom across European countries. This freedom also existed for immigrants from outside the EU. Widely thought was that the UK would vote to remain in the EU. But by a narrow majority, people in the UK voted to leave. Like Hanson backers in Australia and Trump backers in the US, those voting for the UK to leave the EU feared for their futures, again largely blaming business and politicians for their ills. What this does to the UK in terms of business and people’s freedom to move remains to be seen.
But if events in the UK and the US shocked the world, I tip more to come in 2017.
Similar anxieties are apparent in some European countries. These look like featuring in elections happening in France and Germany and the Netherlands. Two of those countries have big-name political figures who could win over lots of unhappy voters. Although elections are coming up elsewhere in the world, these ones will be watched.
There would’ve been shocks from political events in some countries in 2016. But more shocks from elections elsewhere in 2017 might make 2016 seem tame. And at least they have elections, when some countries across the world have no democracy at all. This stuff makes me, as an Australian, grateful to be in a stable country with elections held freely.