As the situation in Greece is just too depressing to contemplate, let’s divert our attention for a moment to the other two big global elections yesterday.
In France, Francois Hollande’s Socialists took an absolute majority in Parliament, meaning Hollande will have a fairly easy time implementing his agenda. The question that will now be answered concerns what that agenda is:
At home, Mr. Hollande has campaigned on increasing spending on social programs and education, with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy to come later. But France has also promised to reduce its budget deficit to 4.5 percent of its gross domestic product this year and to 3 percent for 2013. In a slow economy, that will require tax increases and spending cuts, and the finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, has promised to do what is necessary to reach those targets. “France has made commitments to its partners to reduce its deficit,” he said last week. “We will keep to those commitments.”
But how Mr. Hollande will do so has been a carefully kept secret, certainly while campaigning was under way for the legislature. To disappoint the party faithful too soon would have been politically unwise.
Hollande’s main plank on taxes has been a call to raise the top rate to 75%. But the idea of stimulus now and deficit-reducing measures like that later doesn’t scan with the forced budget deficit reductions in the near term. An audit of the country’s fiscal situation will get completed within a month; expect that to be used to blame former President Nicolas Sarkozy for the early choices Hollande will make. He is still a voice for growth and against austerity abroad, but watch his agenda at home.
In other news, the far left took 10 seats, the Greens 20, and the far right, usually represented by the Le Pen family, took 2, their first seats in Parliament since 1997. However, Marine Le Pen lost her seat; the family’s standard bearer is now 22 year-old law student Marion Maréchal Le Pen, now the youngest member of Parliament in French history.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, a win for the Presidential candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood was made nearly irrelevant by a constitutional decree from the military, arrogating most powers in the country to themselves.
The bold assertion of power by the ruling generals followed months in which they had promised to cede authority to a new civilian government by the end of June. Instead, activists and political analysts said, the generals’ move marked the start of a military dictatorship, a sharp reversal from the promise of Egypt’s popular revolt last year.
The declaration, published in the state gazette, had been expected, but its details indicate that the military has asserted far greater authority than observers had anticipated. Under the order, the president will have no control over the military’s budget or leadership and will not be authorized to declare war without the consent of the ruling generals.
The document said the military would soon name a group of Egyptians to draft a new constitution, which will be subject to a public referendum within three months. Once a new charter is in place, a parliamentary election will be held to replace the Islamist-dominated lower house that was dissolved Thursday after the country’s high court ruled that one-third of the chamber’s members had been elected unlawfully.
This looks very much like a military dictatorship rising out of the Arab spring, a particularly deflating development. The army claimed they would hand over power to the new President, Mohammed Morsi, but they’re handing over what amounts to figurehead status.
Juan Cole writes that the situation of the past several months, with a (less relevant) Muslim Brotherhood legislature and a military acting as President, has been reversed, with a military-led legislature and a (less relevant) Muslim Brotherhood President. Cole takes a bright-side approach to the election, likening it to the situation in Pakistan (well that’s reassuring) and saying that the popular elected official will gradually take precedence over the installed set.
Egypt’s transition after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak has been extremely troubled and democracy is a long way off. But the theory under which SCAF seems to be operating is simply incorrect, and it is far too soon to declare the transition to democracy forestalled. SCAF is taking desperate measures in hopes of shaping Egypt’s post-Mubarak era in the long term. It cannot. In a country with regular, fair elections, a military junta will inevitably gradually be weakened. Only if some authoritarian practices are maintained, as in Algeria or Pakistan or pre-2002 Turkey, can a military junta cohabit with an elected government over time. It seems unlikely to me that a mobilized Egyptian public such as now exists will put up with any such return to authoritarianism.
We shall see.