What happens in an election between a leftist academic economist and a far-right, anti-immigrant populist? Austria just answered this question, and the economist won! In a result leaning against recent right wing victories, Green Partier Alexander Van Der Bellen defeated populist Norbert Hofer in the Austrian presidential elections. This is not to say that this was a clear rejection of new far-right movements, Hofer still received 46% of the vote. So how did Austria get to the point where there is this near split between far-right and left?
The first important caveat comes in defining the role of the President. The Austrian presidency is not at all similar to the unambiguous power of the American Commander-in-chief. The President appoints the leaders of the country, a mostly ceremonial process, as the leaders are chosen through elections. This means the position exists mostly as a state and foreign relations leader. Think of a mix between English monarchy and American elected representation. This means that the President’s main political responsibilities are tied to the approval of the elected governing body, the National Council.
The election of this mostly ceremonial position nevertheless signals the publicly preferred political direction. In the case of this election, it signaled a slim repudiation of emerging far-right populism and anti-immigrant stances. Going forward, we can hope (with an election to support) that economic and environmental responsibility overcome far-right fear in Austria.
A new president in Lebanon has been 29 months in the making. Even the forty-sixth round of voting was subject to delays. The first round of the forty-sixth round of voting was inconclusive, as a stronger majority is needed in the first vote. The second round was thrown out due to 128 votes appearing in the electoral urn, while only 127 voting officials exist. The third round also had more votes than voters, but parliament decided to count them anyway, until an MP’s objection cancelled this round. Finally, in the fourth round of the forty-sixth round of voting, Michel Aoun was elected President of Lebanon, filling the office for the first time in over two years.
This election is ripe with backstory and strange coincidence. The story centers around two figures in Lebanese politics: Michel Aoun, the President-elect, and Saad Hariri, the new Prime Minister. Aoun has held a defining role in Lebanese politics since the 1980s. He was a General, a Prime Minister, and led one of two rival governments following the 1988 appointment of an interim military government. Having been supported by Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, Aoun was forced into exile by a coalition between invading Syria and the United States. In 2005, 15 years later, Aoun returned to Lebanon as Syrian forces ended their occupation. A Lebanese Prime Minister had just been assassinated, creating a widespread peaceful revolution to remove Syrian Forces. The name of this Minister? Rafic Hariri: the father of newly elected Prime Minister, Saad Hariri.
The assassination of Saad Hariri’s father allowed Michel Aoun to return to Lebanon. However, significant differences exist between the two leaders. Aoun and his supporters were anathema under Hariri’s father, intensifying the strange quality of this new alliance. Aoun, a Maronite Christian, allies himself with Hezbollah and Iran. Hariri, a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen, draws his support from Sunni Muslims. The historic conflict between these groups seems to have been, at least temporarily, overshadowed by the Lebanese want for a President, as Hariri somewhat controversially declared his support for Aoun’s presidency. This new unlikely alliance may redefine Lebanese politics. More likely, it is a gamble by Hariri, who like us, can only be unsure of what happens next.
The only place in the world where a political group named the Pirate Party could succeed readily is undoubtedly Iceland. Though the party has struggled historically, recent economic crises and political shifts have pushed many Icelanders to support previously tiny groups. The Pirate Party achieved 10 seats in the Icelandic Parliament, up from 3 seats the previous election. In a 63-seat Parliament, this puts them as the third-largest party, behind the Independence Party and the Left-Greens, far-right and far-left groups, respectively. While moderate, traditional parties failed, their extreme versions flourished. However, a third of the seats went to relatively new and uncommon political parties, of which the Pirates are the largest.
The Pirates have brought life to a new ideology based on radical transparency, accountability, and respect for civil rights. They advocate for direct democracy, freedom of information, and even sponsored a bill to give Edward Snowden Icelandic citizenship. Though their success may not be replicable in larger countries quite yet, the Pirate Party shows us that the choice between left and right is only as absolute as we make it.
Article by Bastien Ibri. Video by Zack Goldstein, Julie Pham, and Chris Wong.