Right Wing Populism Spreads Across the Western World

First, it was Brexit, then it was Donald Trump’s election, and now it is Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s resignation from office. Earlier this year, PM Renzi proposed a constitutional referendum to the Italian people. If passed, the referendum would have increased the efficiency of passing legislation by strengthening the central government and the executive branch. The proposal would have created a rule which would take away much of the voting power of Italy’s lower chamber, the Chamber of Deputies. In retrospect, Mr. Renzi’s belief that the electorate would vote “Yes” for the referendum was deeply mistaken. The “No” vote ended up beating the “Yes” vote in a landslide: 59.11% to 40.89%, with a turnout of around 70%. As per his promise, the Prime Minister resigned shortly after failing to get the votes he needed.  

Renzi’s defeated referendum can be seen as a microcosm of a new political “revolution” throughout the Western world. The most passionate voters who opposed Renzi’s measure, voted for Brexit, and voted for Donald Trump have been referred to as Right Wing Populists: people who typically support anti-elitism, ethnocentrism, and protectionist or “nationalist” economic policies.

As seen with the rebuke of Mr. Renzi’s proposed referendum, political party leaders in other European nations were rather quick to respond to what they perceived as, once again, an example of a move away from “establishment” politics and toward a new system. For example, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel (who is pro-European Union and a critic of Mr. Trump) said that she “took note with regret” of Renzi’s resignation. Contrary to this, the leader of the far-right National Front in France, Marine Le Pen, tweeted: “The Italians have disavowed the EU and Renzi. We must listen to this thirst for freedom of nations.” It’s important to note that the Italian referendum result is being seen as a blow to the European Union and its de facto capital in Brussels; however, so far there is no question of Italy leaving the union. Both the Five Star Movement and the Northern League, two political parties who supported the “No” vote, are opposed to the eurozone (having the euro as Italy’s currency) but not to membership of the EU itself.

This notion of radical nationalism is spreading past Britain, the U.S., and Italy. Earlier this month, the Austrian Elections ultimately ended with far right Freedom Party leader, Norbert Hofer, conceding to the left-leaning Green Party’s Alexander Van Bellen. After learning of this outcome, German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said in a tweet that the “whole of Europe has heaved a sigh of relief”. Hofer would have become the first far-right leader of a western European nation since World War II, portending that seemingly radical, or even fascist, leaders could become prominent in future elections. And in France, the aforementioned Marine Le Pen is leading in polls for the upcoming French Presidential Elections. She sees U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump as an ally who can potentially help in securing her victory.

As a result of these developments, one might potentially ask: what is the essential objective of these nationalist movements who turn out in large numbers to elect outspoken and prideful leaders? They are there to tell the world that they love their country as it has always been and that any intrusion, whether it be migrants or illegal immigrants, globalization, or career politicians aiming to consolidate power, is fundamentally harmful to their traditions and values. This sentiment is exemplified best by the Five Star Movement’s Vaffanculo Day, literally translated as F***-off Day, where Italians gather in front of the offices of politicians to submit new initiatives for changing electoral law and to curse out the political establishment. So here’s to 2017 and beyond, a time where Right Wing Populism is thriving more than ever and is continuously telling the rest of the world to “Vaffanculo.”

Matt Zachem and Myroslav Dobroshynskyi
staff writer, news editor

Graphics: Jessica Chang

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