The Turks, the French, the Ballot Box Gloom

As the sun swept the Anatolian plain last Sunday the margin of support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power grab slipped. For a moment I thought the responsibility for the future of the Republic could rest with urban, cosmopolitan, relatively liberal Istanbul.

Silly me. Before dark the futility of hoping good sense could prevail over the combined forces of rural conservatives and elite-controlled media became clear. The electoral commission’s decision, taken during voting, to allow unvalidated ballots to be counted meant the fix was in; the Erdogan forces deployed whatever votes they needed to assure the President’s continued power, likely until 2029.

You may be in your fourth decade of life in Harare and Robert Mugabe has always been your leader. It’s getting to be like that in our Turkish NATO ally. And for his trouble manipulating the referendum, Turkey’s leader has been rewarded with congratulations from the American president and a long-sought visit to Washington.

This kind of thing is going around. So far it’s mostly tinkering around the edges, tentative constricting of liberty, freedom, thought, in our country and abroad. No would-be despot is yet prepared to go full throat but in all countries everywhere, “line up behind me” is gaining cachet.

The West’s reigning pundits are sure of the cause: Our worldwide distemper reflects the various electorates’ rejection of globalization. More narrowly, I think, it seeks to demonstrate rejection of the decisions taken by leaders since the 2008 global financial crisis.

In our part of the world we talk a good game on the importance of freedom and individual rights, peace and harmony and opportunity and justice and sweetness and light. But what recent plebiscite shows reason for optimism for any of that? The Turkish referendum? Brexit? Trump? France?

Well now. France.

Should French political dissatisfaction send their country spinning into the arms of either extreme candidate (who in late polling cluster with the other, more conventional leaders, all within a few percent of one another), the Fifth Republic’s future heir to Charles de Gaulle may either:

– lead France out of the EU and into the Kremlin’s orbit under Marine Le Pen’s assiduously sanitized, formerly Jew-baiting, still alarmed-by-immigrants right, or

– lead France into the uncharted, hologramatic realm of La France Insoumise, equally out of the EU from the left via the man the horrified French right calls the French Chavez.

Far more so than in the U.S. and even in increasingly Little England (where the reliably Tory-horrified Guardian’s opinion page this week called the Prime Minister’s call for a general election a coup), in France the entire system-as-we’ve-known-it is up for grabs. The center right and center left, which have alternated power throughout the Fifth Republic, both smolder in shambles.

The candidate on the conventional right, battling grimly back here at the end, is mired in scandal, and the conventional left has come apart at the seams. The candidate put up by the incumbent Socialist Prime Minister’s party has spun his wheels, unable to get traction, while farther to the left the anti-capitalist Jean-Luc Mélanchon has come on strong, out of nowhere since my first handicapping three weeks ago.

Meanwhile the candidate desperately designated as the Gallant White Knight is an unproven 39 year old would-be maverick who has spent his entire life preparing inside the establishment. As a skeptical Dissent magazine summarizes, Emmanuel “Macron attended the prestigious Henri IV prep school in Paris. From there, he moved on to Sciences Po, a highly selective university that specializes in politics and international relations, before graduating from the ultra-elite École Nationale d’Administration, an institution that literally produces France’s ruling class.”

So what have we got? Who knows. French election watchers have begun to caution that ballots uncast in the first round may be more portentous than those cast, and that “polls showing Ms. Le Pen losing badly in a May 7 runoff election against either Emmanuel Macron or Francois Fillon (the two more conventional candidates) could be misleading.

There is some doubt whether supporters of Mélanchon on the far left could gin up enthusiasm to vote for establishment-bred Macron just to block the xenophobic Le Pen. At mid-week before Sunday’s first round, the Globe and Mail and Politico EU echoed this idea.

It all adds up, as the France 24 chyron has it three days before election day, to “total uncertainty.”

Also published here on

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