By Prabasi Nepali
French Parliamentary Elections: Landslide Victory for President Macron
In the first round of parliamentary elections in France, the previous Sunday two weeks back, President Emmanuel Macron’s “La Republique en Marche” (LREM/Republic on the Move) and its MoDem allies won 32.3 percent of the vote. The centre-right Republicans (formerly one of the two major political parties) had 21.5 percent, while the far-right National Front (FN) had 13.2 percent, followed by the far-left “La France Insoumise” (France Unbowed on just 11 percent. The Socialists, previously France’s ruling party (and of former president Francois Hollande), and their allies won just 9.5 percent. The voter turnout was low, despite claims that President Macron had re-energized the voting public. According to political pundits, this reflected a resignation among his opponents.
In the second round this last Sunday, Macron, the “wunderkind” of European politics, won a landslide victory. La Republique en Marche (LREM) and its MoDem allies won 60 percent of the parliamentary seats! In the French electoral system, only the top candidates from the first round are eligible to stand in the run-off – the two top-placed contenders for each seat facing each other, along with any other candidate who won the support of at least 12.5 percent of registered voters in the district The traditional parties had urged voters to back Macron’s rivals to stop the concentration of power in the National Assembly. A party needs 289 seats to have a simple majority in the 577-seat legislature, but LREM has won 350 seats – a very comfprtable majority!
The Republicans and their conservative allies will form the main opposition bloc in parliament with 131 seats, while the far-right National Front won 8 seats. The Socialist Party and allies won just 44, their lowest in decades, and their collapse is beyond doubt. The far left managed to win 27 seats. The high abstention rate of more than 50 percent was an indication of the failure of the political class and highlighted the need to change politics in France. At the same time, the election saw a record number of women voted into parliament, due largely to Macron’s decision to field a gender-balanced candidate list.
Macron, 39, won the presidential election last month most convincingly, defeating Marine Le Pen of the National Front in the presidential run-off. He has now secured a solid majority to help push through his planned (and necessary) reforms for the country. He had formed his party just over a year ago, and half of its candidates have little or no political experience. But as could be seen in the United States, the Republican members of Congress have great political experience, but they still back a most incompetent and backward president, and to boot a great danger, not only to his own country, but the world at large. With the necessary majority, Macron hopes to push through the reforms that he promised in his campaign, which include:
n Budget savings of Euro 60 billion in the next five years
n Reducing the number of public servants by 120,000
n Reforming the labour market and generous state pension schemes, bringing them into line with private plans.
Persian Gulf Confrontation: Ramifications for the Region
On May 23, there was breaking news of a hack attributing false statements to the Emir of Qatar. This fake news was aired on several United Arab Emirates and Saudi-owned networks in the Persian Gulf. This sparked a series of “diplomatic breakdowns” among the countries of the “Gulf Cooperation Council” (GCC). This is the official version of the genesis of the Gulf confrontation according to the Qatari authorities, which insists in calling it a “Qatar-Gulf Crisis” (Aljazeera). The next stage would be limited war, until and unless the members of the GCC agree first, on a return to the status quo (either old or new), or decide on a reduction/de-escalation of the crisis, also leading to a restoration of the status quo.
Much depends on the GCC, a political and economic alliance of 6 countries in the Arabian Peninsula, all bordering or near the Persian Gulf – Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman – all Sunni Muslim states. It was established in 1981 and aims to enhance cooperation and close relations among its members. However, the publication of the fake news was not actually what triggered the crisis. The deterioration of relations between Qatar on the one hand, and the other members led by Saudi Arabia on the other, had been building up for some time by the perception of a ‘go alone’ foreign policy followed by Qatar. After US President Donald Trump’s grand visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia perceived that it had full American support to pressurize Qatar to mend its ways, and organized a grand coalition, including non-GCC member Egypt, against the tiny emirate.
In a concerted action in the early hours of June 5, 2017, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt announced suddenly that they were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, citing concerns over their security and stability, and also interference in their domestic affairs. This entailed the closing of their own diplomatic missions in Doha, the Qatari capital, and simultaneously the shutdown of Qatari diplomatic missions in the other respective capitals. There were other dimensions. Not only diplomats, but also ordinary citizens were told to return to their own countries. This was a grave violation of their basic human rights. In addition, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt closed their land, air and sea passage to all vehicles, aircraft and vessels coming from or going to Qatar. This was tantamount to a land/sea/air blockade from their sovereign areas and airspace, but without a declaration of war. Qatar was, therefore, restricted to its own sovereign sea passage and air space (being constricted by Saudi Arabia on land).
Saudi Arabia has even gone further, by terminating the participation of Qatari troops from the ongoing civil war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia is leading the campaign against the Sh’ia Houthi rebels. Qatar has responded that there is “no legitimate justification” for the actions taken by the four countries and that their decision is a “violation of its sovereignty”.
The roots of this conflict go back to the previous diplomatic rift in 2014 when Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain similarly pulled out their diplomats claiming that Qatar supported armed groups. However, the border remained open and Qataris were not expelled. There was also less international support. This time around there is marked escalation and tacit US support. Tensions with Qatar have generally revolved around its alleged support for political Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood (mainly in Egypt), Hamas (Gaza strip), and Hezbollah (Lebanon), as well as complaints about the Al Jazeera Media Network, based in Doha, and above all its close relations with Sh’ia majority Iran. These tensions were exacerbated by the Arab Spring in 2011, when Saudi Arabia and Qatar were seen as backing different sides. The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir has said: “We want to see Qatar implement the promises it made a few years back with regard to its support of extremist groups, to its hostile media and interference in affairs of other countries.” Once again, the Emir of Kuwait is mediating between the GCC countries, since both Kuwait and Oman (also not involved in the diplomatic standoff) believe that a further escalation would be highly detrimental to the future of the GCC.
Macron’s Momentous Victory in France
By Prabasi Nepali