The Ins Are Out

November 07, 1993|By RICHARD O'MARA

Everywhere you look, the ins are being thrown out; the outs are coming in.

In the Canadian elections of Oct. 25, the ruling Progressive Conservatives were virtually wiped out as a significant political force by the more leftist Liberal Party; their parliamentary representation was reduced from 155 seats to two.

Two weeks earlier, in Greece, the Conservative government of Constantine Mitsotakis was singed by the fading fire of Andreas Papandreou as it lost the government to his Panhellenic Socialist League.

And on Sept. 19, the Communists in Poland, led by Waldemar Pawlak, made a comeback in elections and once again, as they did before the East Bloc crumbled, control the government.

So what does it mean? Is the great pendulum of world politics swinging back to the left now that the arc from the opposite direction is complete? Is there such a thing as a political pendulum, or is that just a metaphor cultivated by intellectuals, academics and pundits?

After all, there are counter-indications: In France, in the late-March elections, the ruling French Socialists were expelled from the government by an alliance of right-wing parties.

And in Russia, President Boris N. Yeltsin, though shrinking in popularity, still managed to beat back a lethal challenge by the former Communists in the Congress of People's Deputies.

All this may suggest that the arena of world politics is in serious disarray, that the only thing one might say about it is that things are unclear, even incoherent.

But not everybody sees things that way.

Seymour Martin Lipset, professor of public policy at George Mason University, offers what he regards as a proven way to read the global scene: It's not the ideology that matters; it's the economy.

"It's not that things swing right and left," he said. "They go like this: If things are bad, the incumbents lose; if they are good, they win. At present, incumbents seem to be losing.

"The one [accurate] generalization is the economy. The economy drives elections more than any other variable, and we've had basically a worldwide recession, with high unemployment rates, lack of growth, lack of job creation."

That there is a general anti-incumbency sentiment just about everywhere appears obvious. A number of people contacted, academics and pollsters, referred to it, and polling information confirms it. So did last week's U.S. elections, which saw New York's incumbent mayor, David N. Dinkins, and New Jersey Gov. James J. Florio turned out by the voters.

This summer, American Enterprise magazine published information from polls taken in all of the G-7 countries, the world's most wealthy industrial democracies. The results revealed a high level of discontent and dissatisfaction among the people queried, both with their leaders and with the direction their countries were heading.

But for Charles F. Doran, the explanation of the dynamic that is at play is a bit broader than that suggested by Mr. Lipset. He also has an idea why it is so widespread and occurring at this time.

Mr. Doran is professor of international relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. To him, what we are seeing is the expression of a vast global populism, an inchoate demand to be heard by millions of people all across the world -- or at least all across the democratic world, where people's desires can be articulated through elections.

How long it will last, how deep it runs, is uncertain. But it is clearly a disruptive phenomenon, and if he is correct, and if it advances, more than names and faces are likely to be changed. For Mr. Doran believes the prevailing internationalist attitudes toward trade, economics and the relationships between and among states are being challenged. These are the attitudes that have guided the thinking of governments since the last new world order was put into place at the end of World War II with the founding of the United Nations.

To Mr. Doran, each of these electoral turnovers, contradictory though they might appear, is an element in a pattern only now emerging as the world slowly redefines itself.

"There's a pretty clear shift under way," he said, "but it has a fuzzy focus. There is this movement toward populism. It is non-ideological; it has aspects of conservatism and of the left.

"What you are seeing in North America is a rebellion by voters against what they define as the political class. You are seeing it in Canada. You saw the same thing in the U.S. [with the Ross Perot phenomenon]. Where you saw it most strikingly was in Japan, with the rebellion by voters against the Liberal Democrats," who ran the country since the end of World War II.

This global populism, Mr. Doran said, is not the same kind of populist movement that shook the United States in the 1890s. But: "If you looked back, you'd see the same anger. The same sense of being exploited and ignored.

"People want governments to address their problems," he said.

But what triggered this fierce outcry? And why now?

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