Yearender: The political maelstrom that was 2016

BEIJING, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) — The year 2016 will be remembered as a year full of political surprises and one that defied the predictions of pundits and pollsters.

Here is a look at the some of the year’s most unexpected political events that caught many people, even seasoned experts, off guard:

BREXIT

Britain voted to leave the European Union in a referendum in June, a surprise result that has stunned the world.

Its departure has significant ramification both on the international landscape and country-to-country relations.

As it exits the union, Britain might lose much of its voice in European affairs. However, the rest of Europe stands to suffer too.

Many experts fear that it would create a “domino effect” and lead other nations to pull out the alliance, and predicted at least a freezing, if not a serious rollback, of decades of strides toward regional integration.

The Brexit referendum vote has also sent shock waves around the global economy. It led to an immediate and sharp fall in sterling on foreign exchange markets, reflected in the collapse of the pound against the dollar from 1.48 U.S. dollars to the pound on the night of the vote to 1.27 U.S. dollars now.

Trade is another tricky issue. Britain’s withdrawal from the EU’s single market is costly as it has to renegotiate trade agreements with the EU member states, 52 economies which enjoy preferential trade agreements with the EU, or with over 100 members of the World Trade Organization.

Meanwhile, its exit is set to create chaos to the EU’s budget plan as well as the ongoing capital market integration, bringing negative impacts to EU financial institutions that will eventually weigh on the bloc’s economy.

Brexit as well puts the European Investment Bank’s high rating on risk, leaving the bank’s bond in a vulnerable position and may drive investors away to look for safer havens.

Economists warned that Brexit raises great uncertainties on the bloc’s growth, which unfortunately is still sluggish.

TRUMP’S ELECTIONH

Brexit is by no means the only unexpected political event in 2016.

On. Nov. 8, Donald Trump was elected America’s 45th president despite analysts and mainstream opinion polls predicting his defeat to Hillary Clinton.

Both Brexit and Trump’s win are indications that the populist tide is resurgent all over the West, and the world as well.

Experts pointed out that the decline of the middle class and the ever-widening cap between the rich and the poor are the main reasons why the forces of nationalism and populism have been unleashing their powers in global affairs.

According to McKinsey, between 2005 and 2014 real income was stagnant or declined for over 65 percent of households in the world’s advanced countries, affecting some 540 million people.

The Brexit vote revealed a deeply divided Britain, and anger at social inequality, an economic slowdown, immigration and globalization was eventually translated into a rejection of the EU.

Things are quite similar in the United States, where the election outcome exposed widespread anger with ruling elites.

According to official data, 3.1 percent of income earned annually in the United States went to the poorest 20 percent of people, while 51.4 percent was earned by the richest 20 percent.

Experts said many people in the country are enraged by the existing economic system, believing it has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. They feared that migrants would take away their jobs, while politicians in their eyes only care about maximizing votes while ignoring the interests of the majority.

In such a context, Trump rode to victory by tapping into voters’ frustration at the political establishment, positioning himself as the voice of “the forgotten men and women” in the country who feel sidelined by globalization and the loss of well-paid manufacturing jobs.

SOUTH KOREA PRESIDENTIAL SCANDAL

While a wave of populism is sweeping the West, a political scandal thousands of miles away in South Korea has led to the impeachment of president Park Geun-hye and seen thousands of protesters take to the streets.

On Dec. 9, the South Korean parliament overwhelmingly passed a historic bill to impeach scandal-scarred Park, who is accused of allowing a shadowy confidante and the daughter of a religious sect leader, to meddle in state affairs and help her extort money from South Korean companies.

The final decision lies with the Constitutional Court which will have up to six months to deliberate whether to oust the president.

If the impeachment is justified, Park will be permanently removed and elections must be held within 60 days — meaning a ballot could be held as early as late March.

Analysts expect the impeachment will have a limited impact on the financial markets but could bring about dramatic changes in the country’s foreign and security policies as ruling and opposition parties approach those issues from different perspectives.

To begin with, South Korea’s agreement with Japan on the “comfort women” issue may be at risk under a new administration.

Seoul reached a “final and irreversible” agreement last December with Tokyo regarding the “comfort women,” a euphemism for Korean women who were lured or forced into sexual slavery for Imperial Japan’s military brothels before and during the Second World War.

However, South Korea could overturn the deal in the wake of Park’s impeachment since it faces significant opposition within South Korea. Leaders of the opposition parties and presidential contenders have rejected the agreement.

Meanwhile, the country’s policy toward the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) could see changes. Park favored a hard-line policy toward the DPRK, but the country’s liberal opposition tend to support the sunshine policy to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula and increase exchanges and cooperation.

The opposition bloc has also made out its case to end the deployment of a U.S. missile shield on South Korean soil and the signing of a military intelligence pact with Japan.

Leave a Reply