World Review: Voter suppression, wobbling Macron and the Great Barrier Reef

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Tom Arms, this week defends the use of the filibuster in Congress but criticises the Republicans for making it more difficult to vote. Joe Biden, desperate to avoid the addition of America to the sad list of states buried in Afghanistan’s imperial graveyard, is to throw money at the country problem’s rather than soldiers.

The first round of French local elections show President Macron to be in deep trouble and right-winger Marine Le Pen is not far behind him. The Australian government’s reaction to UNESCO’s warnings on the Great Barrier Reef show that the country is a big problem for the climate change community.

The US Congress had a choice this week. To be more precise the Republican Party had a choice: The protection of voting rights or the protection of a congressional procedure designed to encourage bipartisanship – the filibuster. The latter won with the help of two rebel Democratic Party Senators, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kysten Sinema. The filibuster has received quite a bit of bad press lately because it is being used to block President Biden’s legislative agenda.

But there are some good reasons for the filibuster. Basically, when invoked, the filibuster requires 60 of the Senate’s 100 members to vote for a bill to be passed, rather than simple majority. As one party is highly unlikely to have 60 Senators, the measure is meant to encourage the politicians to seek consensus through bipartisanship. A worthy objective, especially in today’s politically divisive America. The problem is that Republicans chose the issue of the protection of voting rights to protect the filibuster at the expense of the voters. They moved en bloc to prevent a Senate debate on the For the People Act which would have overwritten the current crop of Republican states’ efforts to restrict voting rights. Republicans are disarmingly honest about their reason for making it more difficult to vote. They acknowledge that the more people who vote, the more people who will vote for Democratic Party candidates. Voting against the fullest possible franchise seems like a strange position to take for one of the two major political parties of the world’s self-declared bastion for Democracy. The current band of Republicans, however, appear to be more interested in power at any price then protecting democracy.

The instant shoot from the hip assessment of the first round of French local elections was that President Macron is in deep trouble and right-winger Marine Le Pen is not far behind him. The centre-right Les Republicains, however, are coming up fast from behind. And, finally, the incredibly high abstention rate – nearly two-thirds of the electorate – indicates that French voters are fed up with politicians and their inability to overcome special interests, political realities and the dead hand of bureaucracy. The last point is valid and is not good for democracy in France because voters who don’t vote eventually don yellow vests and turn to extra-legal means. But you have to take into account the fact that local elections do not enthuse the voters quite like a federal campaign.

Then there is the question of the future of President Emmanuel Macron after his En Marche party won only 11 percent of the first round votes. This result is not good for Macron but it is not a disaster. It is more of a result of the party’s failure to develop a grassroots structure. Macron is En Marche in a top down party structure. This means that Emmanuel Macron will do much better in next May’s presidential elections than this year’s local ballot. It is a slightly different story for Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Rally, which was widely predicted to have their first victory in the French Southwest PAC region (Provence, Lyon and Cote d’Azur). But they failed. In recent years Marine Le Pen has been edging her party away from its ultra-right position in a bid to win more mainstream votes. In doing so she may have lost key differentiators and some supporters.

Finally, there is Les Republicains who appear to be the big winners with 27 percent of the first round vote. The problem here is that the vast majority of their candidates were incumbents while most of the National Rally and all of the En Marche candidates were newbies. Local elections, especially those with low turn-outs, favour incumbents. The smart money, therefore, is still on a Macron/Le Pen run-off in next May’s presidential battle. No bets, however, on the ultimate winner.

Joe Biden is desperate to avoid the addition of America to the sad list of states buried in Afghanistan’s imperial graveyard. That is why he invited President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Chairperson of the High Council for National Reconciliation to Washington. His solution: Throw money, not American soldiers, at the problem. This has been an expensive 20-year war. It has cost the US Treasury roughly a trillion dollars. Most of the cash has gone on defence. But something like $145 billion has been spent on aid to build roads, schools, hospitals etcetera. An estimated $19 billion has ended up in the pockets of corrupt politicians. About 2,300 US soldiers have lost their lives and 45,000 Afghans have died fighting against the Taliban. The latter will continue fighting and dying after the US pulls out its remaining troops in September. Biden is promising President Ghani that the US will continue to supply weapons and training. But the emphasis of American aid will shift to economic reconstruction in an effort to lure hearts and minds from the theocratically-driven Taliban. Most strategists think Biden will fail and President Ghani will end up as an asylum seeker in London or New York, or possibly Los Angeles with Afghan veteran Prince Harry. The Taliban is confident of victory once NATO forces withdraw. The BBC reported in January that the Jihadists were in varying degrees in control of 72 percent of the country, and well-placed for an all-out offensive. They have refused a peace deal with President Ghani.

The Australian government is a big problem for the climate change community. For proof, just look at the way it has this week handled the UN Heritage Committee’s recommendation that the Great Barrier Reef be added to UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage Sites. An outraged Susan Ley, Australia’s Environment Minister, promised to “strongly oppose” the recommendation. The Great Barrier Reef, she said, is being properly managed. Ley, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the rest of the Australian government need to pull their climate change denial heads out of the Australian sand and look at the reef.

In the past 20 years, half of the hard coral in the 133,000 square miles of the Great Barrier Reef has died as a result of rising ocean temperatures. The reef creates 64,000 Australian jobs and provides the national economy with $6.4 billion. But more importantly, is its inestimable contribution to the wider Western Pacific. The Great Barrier Reef is the spawning ground for 1,500 known species of fish who swim forth to support millions of fishermen throughout the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. The Australian government knows this. They have been hearing but not listening to dire warnings for more than two decades. But they deny the maritime threat to themselves and others because the Australian economy is heavily dependent on coal exports, especially high value anthracite. Admitting to the problems of the reef means admitting to climate change which means damaging coal exports worth about $55 billion a year in 2020.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” is published on 15 October.

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  • John Marriott 27th Jun '21 - 9:34am

    As regards the USA my main worry is that the Democrats may lose control of Congress after the next elections. Also, the right appears to be attempting a hatchet job on Kamala Harris. When are they going to prosecute Trump?

  • @ John Marriott, New York is expected to formally indict the Trump Organisation some time in the coming week on criminal charges. The question is, which officers of the Trump Organisation will be named in the indictment? That is not yet known.

  • The big news from France is the failure of the Faschists to break out of their electoral Ghetto, again & the Rebirth of The Gaullists who were supposed to be dead.

    The big lesson for Extremists is that the best Route to Power is to to take over existing Parties, unfortunately its a lesson that has been learned in The USA & Britain.

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