July 8, 2022

IntelBrief: Key Elections and Political Crises Reshuffle the Geopolitical Landscape

AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

Bottom Line Up Front 

  • The U.K.’s prime minister, Boris Johnson announced that he would quit as the leader of the Conservative Party, insisting that he would stay on as PM until a new party leader is chosen.
  • Israel’s tenuous coalition government collapsed late last month, leading to the rise of Interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who will govern until November, when Israel will hold its fifth national election in under four years.
  • The presidential election in Colombia marked a historic shift for the South American country, which elected a leftist president for the first time and could signal that Colombians’ attitudes toward the country’s rebel past are shifting.
  • French President Macron’s Ensemble coalition suffered an unexpected defeat in parliamentary elections last month, which saw the far-right and far-left gain enough seats to leave Macron’s party short of a parliamentary majority.

Colombia and France are adjusting to political shakeups following elections last month, while Israel and the U.K. are set to hold elections of their own following the collapse of their governing coalitions in recent days. Just yesterday, the U.K.’s prime minister, Boris Johnson announced that he would quit as the leader of the Conservative Party. He stopped short of resigning as prime minister, insisting that he would stay on as late as October, by which time a new party leader is expected to have been chosen. Tory leaders are expected to meet next week to determine a timeline for selecting the party’s next leader. After a tumultuous few years under Johnson’s leadership, the party is likely to select a less polarizing figure for the top job. Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Sajid Javid, and Jeremy Hunt are all considered frontrunners for the position. If Johnson remains in office as a caretaker PM, many have asked how the government will function with a hollowed-out cabinet, following a series of high-profile resignations. Opposition and Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has threatened to initiate a no-confidence vote if Johnson is not immediately replaced as interim PM. Whether he stays on until the fall or concedes defeat, Johnson’s tenure will be remembered as a chaotic one. An early champion of Brexit, he was elected on a populist platform that billed him as the best candidate to implement that vision and complete the withdrawal of the U.K. from the European Union. Although he did achieve this, his time in office, and the cascade of scandals that characterized it, offers further evidence that it is easier to be elected as a populist than it is to govern as one.

After weeks of political wrangling, Israel’s tenuous coalition government collapsed late last month. In response, prime minister Naftali Bennett announced he would step down and dissolve parliament, which will trigger new elections in November. In the interim, Israel will be led by Yair Lapid, Bennett’s former coalition partner. The upcoming election will be Israel’s fifth national election in just under four years and will pit centrist Yair Lapid and right-wing rivals, Naftali Bennett, and Benjamin Netanyahu against one another. Despite ongoing legal action against former prime minister Netanyahu over charges of corruption, his party currently appears poised to retain its majority in the Knesset and if he is able to gain the support of extreme-right parliamentarians, Netanyahu could return to power as prime minister. U.S. President Biden’s visit will likely boost interim prime minister Lapid’s image, along with his credentials for the permanent post. Although President Biden will meet with Netanyahu as a courtesy, he would prefer to see Lapid win the contest and with this in mind he may avoid pressing Israel on controversial issues such as the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The frequency and futility of the past four elections underscore the stalemate that has dominated Israeli politics these past years. Voters are split on many key issues and despite the continued high stakes, many moderate voters lost interest in the process long ago.

The presidential election in Colombia marked a historic shift for the South American country, which elected a leftist president for the first time. Gustavo Petro, a former leftist guerilla, beat Rodolfo Hernandez, a construction magnate and right-wing anti-corruption candidate, who had been referred to as “the Colombian Donald Trump.” Both were considered anti-establishment candidates, however, it was Petro’s vision that swayed Colombia’s voters. His election may signal that Colombians’ attitudes toward the country’s rebel past, and figures linked to it, could be shifting. For decades, leftist politicians were hobbled in national elections by their affiliations with violent insurgent movements. Although his election could turn out to be a temporary popular reaction to growing inequality, lack of opportunity, and frustrations over corruption, it is certain that his term in office will change the nature of the relationship between Colombia and the U.S. The two have cooperated closely on security issues for decades and Colombia is the U.S.’s largest trade partner in the region. Analysts fear Petro may pare this relationship back while developing closer ties to autocratic, and anti-U.S., leaders in the region. Whether Petro’s election signifies a change in Colombia’s psyche or merely a temporary flirtation with leftist politics, his administration is set to significantly alter the trajectory of the country in the short to medium term.

Across the Atlantic, French President Emmanuel Macron’s party is still reeling from an unexpected defeat in parliamentary elections last month. Both the far-right and far-left gained an unexpected number of seats, leaving Macron’s Ensemble coalition well short of a parliamentary majority. Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party won a historic high of 89 seats, making it their most successful parliamentary election to date. The success marks an important milestone in Le Pen’s quest to mainstream the historically extreme-right, anti-immigrant party. Although the National Rally is now the second-largest standalone voting bloc in the legislature, it cannot pass laws without the support of other parties. Another historic shift that influenced the election was the formation of a left-wing coalition led by radical leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon. By uniting several parties on the left, the New Ecologic and Social People's Union (NUPES) now forms the second-largest parliamentary voting bloc after Macron’s coalition. The polarization of France’s legislature reflects the increasingly bipolar nature of the French electorate, which has left centrist politicians rightfully worried about their continued electability. France’s Fifth Republic was formed around the office of a strong president, however, not having a parliamentary majority will force Macron to curb his domestic ambitions and check his vision for a strengthened E.U. during his last five year term.