Lords and Ladies of Misrule in a year of tumult

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 29, 2018

Was 2018 an especially bad year for good governance? Leonid Bershdisky seems to think so in an insightful piece for Bloomberg.

He writes, “Surely, 2018 saw a staggering number of countries woefully misruled by the worst crop of world leaders in recent memory.”

His list starts with the person you might expect – US President Donald Trump.

And #2 is not a surprise either. Mr Bershidsky puts “the misgovernment of the UK” since the Brexit referendum result in second place on the global misgovernance index. After that, the list is much less predictable.

There’s Emmanuel Macron of France, weakened by possibly “the most effective Facebook-driven revolt in a Western nation to date”. And there’s German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who’s out of political time and support. Italy’s government, which wrote a “fantasy budget” only to quail before the European Union’s basilisk stare, is also named. Spain’s misgovernance ran to not one, but two governments in 2018. Mariano Rajoy’s government fell on account of a corruption scandal. Pedro Sanchez, who replaced him in a parliamentary coup, also has a government beset by scandals. Meanwhile, a nationalist party, Vox, is gaining ground, having opened its tally in Andalusia’s regional parliament.

Sweden and Latvia, which had inconclusive elections, remain without a government. Belgium too doesn’t have a government, which was toppled by a member of the ruling coalition.

Mr Bershidsky sees the strongmen as weakening too. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been forced to endure protests against the increase of the retirement age. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his party to a poor result in three state assembly elections. Turkey’s all-powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan watches the economy trend downward. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may find it less easy than he thought to wean the Saudi economy off its dependence on oil. Hungary’s Viktor Orban is facing massive street protests. And Iran too is beset by protests as well as US sanctions.

Mr Bershidsky draws an interesting conclusion from the list of lords and ladies of misrule. “The current crew of error-prone rulers makes for a fractious world with a growing potential for conflict, armed and otherwise, domestic and international. The elites, both democratic and authoritarian, are weak, and they invite backlashes against their mismanagement. Protest movements and anti-establishment parties have sprung up and are strengthening everywhere; they have different goals but are all bolstered by social-network technology that amplifies anger and violence.”

In other words, misrule feeds misbehaviour, a doleful cycle.