#071 Constitutional Law & Civil Society

Going to a summer school in Korea, I heard a lot about the social movement in Korea that brought to the impeachment of former president Park Geun-Hye. After news outlets reported on the particular relationship the president had with one of her close friends, Choi Soon-Sil, people started protesting on the streets, calling for the president to step down. A few months later, the National Assembly send a motion of impeachment to the Constitutional Court, which, in the end, agreed on one issue and impeached the president. 60 days later, Korea had a new president.

There were many issues behind Park Geun-Hye’s impeachment: sharing classified information with a non-official, not reacting to a ferry sinking, etc. I would like to say that what is going in Japan right now might be far worse. I only know part of the stories because I did not take the time to look at everything. Here are 2 important cases:

  • Obstruction of justice: a young female reporter was raped by a senior journalist. She mustered courage, went to the police station, filed a complaint, even though the police officer told her “Are you sure you want to do that? It could ruin your life” (hello sexist society). In the end, the Police gathered evidence. There were medical evidence, surveillance camera recordings, the taxi driver’s deposition, etc. Police officers finally got a mandate to arrest the journalist. They decided to arrest him at the airport, as he was coming back to Japan. But at the last minute, the officers got a call: stop everything. The call came from above. Interests were at stake. They had to step down. The victim ended up organizing a press conference, showing her face to the nation, and explaining what happened. For the moment, nothing has happened. Why? Because the incriminated journalist has direct links with powerful people, among whom very possibly the Prime Minister, our beloved Abe.
  • Corruption, conflict of interests: there are now 2 schools under scrutiny in Japan. One is a primary school (Moritomo Gakuen) and a university (Kake Gakuen). Both of them are under suspicion of having benefited from special treatment from the current government. Telling the whole story would be long. In three words: money, power and friendships. The two stories brought many things to the surface. One of them is the implication of the Ministry of Education and its bureaucrats in the process, with pressure coming from the Cabinet. One bureaucrat has stepped down and is now talking freely in media outlets. I hope he won’t “commit suicide” in the upcoming months. Things happen, right?

And all of this is without talking about the influence of a far-right (cultish) group called Nippon Kaigi, the former Defense Minister saying that the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) were supporting the majority, eroding freedom of press, expression and association, remilitarization (even though the majority of the population is against it), etc. There must be some articles in English out there, I will try to find a few links. But those stories, which are just the emerged part of the iceberg (as we say in French), show that the Prime Minister and its party are using personal power, money and networks to govern. It is simply not acceptable.

Nevertheless, Japan (as Korea, from what I understood) has powerful conservative mass media. The national broadcasting station NHK is informing citizens about what the government deem important or right. You have a sensitive discussion at the Parliament and don’t want your constituents to know about it? Broadcast sumo instead, should be fine. You have a former official who spills important information showing the government is shady? Ask a conservative newspaper to discredit him. You have massive demonstration against your policies? Let media outlet know that they should cover the issue in a favorable manner. If they don’t want to: call them, pressure them, threaten them. It simple and efficient.

If you look at what is happening in front of the Parliament and on social media, you would be able to see how civil society is trying to organize itself to criticize and counter the government. Lawyers, professors, experts, students are active. Normal citizens are going out and protest with creative signs. But they are simply ignored, also because mass media let them be ignored. Many of my Japanese friends don’t have an opinion about those issues because they don’t even know. It was shocking to me, but it seems to be a pretty normal pattern. Politics is not something that people talk about casually. If you talk about it, you look like a political fanatic or a scary “leftist”. There is no space for debate, somehow. And the government is smartly using this social situation to advance its agenda without being hindered. How nice is that, right? Recent polls have shown that Japanese people’s understanding of democracy is about output (social welfare, fairness…) more than input (freedom of speech, elections, etc.). Most people are certainly concerned about their everyday lives and how to improve it. Political freedom and agency? Not that important. It is really reminding me of Freedom for Sale, a terrifying book written by Kampfner, showing that economic growth and material comfort is often more important than freedom and democracy. This case is sadly illustrating his thesis.

Now that I look at how Korean people were able to take down the president in a strong presidential system, I wonder even more about why Japanese people don’t seem to be able to get rid of their Prime Minister. PMs can be replaced and should be replaced when their support rate declines. Abe doesn’t even have 50% of support in the polls held by the conservative Yomiuri newspaper. But he’s not stepping down. People are on the street. But he’s not stepping down. And these days I am really curious to know why it’s not happening, when it should be much easier than in the Korean context. If anyone has a good explanation, please let me know. Until then, I will try to avoid falling in despair and attempt to find some hope, somewhere, somehow.


#070 French Elections I: Overseeing The Presidential Elections.


Note: This article reflects my personal opinions related to French politics and the elections.

In the past months, populism has been at its best: between the Brexit in the UK and the election of Trump in the US, fear started filling minds. As the French elections were coming closer, my German landlords started expressing what they ironically coined at “German Angst”, a mix of fear and anxiety. They were startled by the high scores of Marine Lepen in the polls and started believing that France was next. I sat for hours in the kitchen, trying to explain the French election system and its differences with the American one, while they would remind of the Weimar Republic. “France cannot tilt. If France does, then the EU is done.”, the wife would tell me, telling me that we had to be “responsible” for the rest of Europe. It became difficult for me to face the topic, as I felt that she was not listening to my explanations. “What good is there studying in an Institute for Political Science if, in the end, everyone has a strong opinion about politics and your knowledge about the political system and its leverage goes down the drain?”, I wondered, a bit annoyed, frustrated and hurt that she would ignore my prognostics.

And what were my prognostics?

  • The Socialist Party was done: Manuel Valls had decided not to respect the results of the primaries and did not endorse Benoît Hamon. The latter embodied the left-side of the Socialist Party, proposing important reforms (universal income, shut down of nuclear power plants and investment in green energies, etc.), but I felt that, in a way, it was too early to make such propositions. People did not feel that his Keynesian measures would be implemented, as they required an incredible financial effort. To which we would add fight against the nuclear village, fight against neoliberal international institutions and corporations, etc. He was not on the right track to begin with, even though he was endorsed by our current superstar, the economist Thomas Piketty. So, no Socialist Party.
  • The Conservative Party (Les Républicains) was caught up in a scandal thanks to its leader, François Fillon, the herald of the Christian (anti-gay rights/anti-abortion)  community, known as the “Manif pour tous” (Demonstration for All, an obviously misleading name). So, no Républicains.
  • Jean-Luc Mélenchon: originally part of the Socialist Party, he left a few years ago to join the Front de Gauche (Leftist Front) and presented himself in 2017 as an independent candidate. Many of his ideas were closed to the Socialist Party’s and some hoped for the two candidates to join forces, in order to block the road to the right wing parties, and especially to Marine Lepen. Certainly because of a reluctance to hold the Socialist Party’s hand, he refused to accept the offer from Benoît Hamon. He ended up with a fair score, but no Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

During the first round of the elections, the candidates above were eliminated, as two other candidates arrived first and second:

  • Le Front National : the now sadly famous party led by Marine Lepen is a legacy from her (racist/sexist/antisemitic) father, Jean-Marie Lepen. She kicked her father out of the party a few years ago, as he was voicing negationist ideas. She then became the head of the party and, thanks to her oratory skills and her image (relatively young, feminine, etc.) she helped normalize her xenophobe party.
  • En Marche ! : Technically, En Marche! is not a party, but a “movement”, which refuses the label of being “leftist” or “rightist”. Its founder, Emmanuel Macron, is a young (39) man who went through the royal path to power: degree of philosophy, Sciences Po, ENA, Inspection générale des finances, Rotschild, Ministry of Economy. A brilliant citizen.

Now, since Sunday evening, my landlords’ fears are put to rest: Emmanuel Macron has been elected President, with more than 60% of the votes. If you count abstention and blank ballots, it’s more 45%, but who cares, he will be in office. We escaped the Lepen dynasty and will still enjoy 5 years of relative peace. Maybe.

What I find interesting is that by looking at newspaper covers outside of France, the world seems euphoric. France did not give up and, as John Oliver hoped, it proved itself superior to the UK and US. Nevertheless, I believe that difficulties lie ahead of us. The reason why Lepen has still gathered more than 30% is alarming: 30% of people who expressed clearly their opinion decided to vote for a lady who wants to “make France great again” by expulsing migrants, refusing to welcome refugees, denigrating freedom of religion, etc. Moreover, an important number of people decided not to vote, either by not going at all or by casting a blank ballot (16 million people). To put it simply, 1 French person out of 4 decided to not go, at all. And among those people, I believe many felt that the 2 candidates were not representing their opinion/wishes, and they did not want to cast a vote for the “less worse” (we call it “vote utile”) as they did not endorse neither candidate. One of my landlords told me it was irresponsible, as everything should be done to avoid having Marine Lepen in office. I replied, trying to stay calm: “This is a real decision they make. They are expressing a profound discontent against the current political system. It is the proof of the existence of a deep political crisis, not irresponsibility.”

Among people who did not go to vote or did not cast a valid ballot, I guess we could fine many left-wing people who really believed in the social programs supported by Mélenchon and/or Hamon. They wanted a return to Keynesian policies, instead of deregulated globalization. They hoped for more state-sponsored initiatives, a better social safety net, public investments creating jobs, etc. But facing Lepen and Macron, they understood that their wishes would not be fulfilled. Lepen is promoting “national preference”, a politically correct word to talk about isolationism, while Macron is supporting more deregulation on the labor market. Both candidates have no desire to stop nuclear energy, nor to help modest families to make ends meet. Well, at least Macron did not express a will to get out of the EU. Yeah.

I personally believe that we should not express to much joy about those elections. We still need to stay focus until the end of the legislative elections, as Macron will not be able to govern without a stable majority at the Parliament. But what happens when a candidate does not belong to a party, and therefore has no clear allies in parliament? How will he organize his troops and will those be loyal? Many questions are still floating around, and we will not get an answer until June. Also, I believe that it will be important for Macron to understand that he actually gathered 43% of the votes, not 66%, meaning that he is in a delicate position. With 25% of French people who did not vote, he will have to prove that he is worthy of the task. And I do not believe that more economic deregulation, less taxes for the ones who can afford to pay them, or a more flexible labor market is the solution. French people are not like Germans, they will not quietly endure austerity, waiting for better days. Instead, they might choose to vote for Marine Lepen in five years. And then I do not believe that we will able to stop her anymore.

So, Emmanuel, good luck.

Newspapers, Thoughts


Ezra Klein, Vox, 2016.07.22

Sometimes, I wonder how people’s minds work. Last month, we had the Brexit. Than the Japanese senatorial elections. And now this. People keep voting for demagogues, sexist assholes and stupid racists. I really wonder what makes them so attractive, so convincing. Their speeches are full of lies and hatred. They keep talking about figures that are wrong or used the wrong way, creating fear among people. And the worst part in this is that it is extremely difficult to stop them!

Trump is a liar. Trump boasts constantly that he had the judgment and foresight to oppose the Iraq War. But he didn’t. On September 11, 2002, Trump was asked by Howard Stern whether he supported the invasion of Iraq. “Yeah, I guess so,” he replied. Trump has not sought to explain these comments or offer evidence of an alternative judgment he offered elsewhere. He just lies about this, and he does so often.

This is just not ok. It’s like the “give the money back to the NHS” issue in the UK: “Will you invest the money that won’t go to the EU in the NHS?” “No” Well, you wrote that on buses, man, you should have thought about in advance!

What is amazing, and I really feel it in France with the rise of the Front National, is that the most vulnerable people vote for those sharks. Poor, jobless, discriminated,… But they don’t get that those politicians are not here to make their lives better! They have their own agenda (like Trump that wants to lower taxes on high incomes), their own secret projects that will make those people’s lives even more difficult afterwards. I do not trust politicians in general, especially when they lightly say that they are going to improve employment rate, wages and social care, all at once and without struggling. I know it is just a campaign and those are just words. I also have a clear and global idea of what I want society to be like. I don’t rely on one single political party. I just rely on my own sense of justice and fairness, on what I think could be good for French people in general. Why? Because I’m from a privileged family and I don’t have to worry about my daily life. Well, I do, a little, but still, I don’t fear unemployment that much, I don’t fear not having a roof over my head, I don’t fear not being able to put food on my table. I can take the time to think about a fairer society, with the promotion of small local businesses and communities producing eco-friendly veggies and campaigning against mass-consumption.

I’m certainly part of this intello-hipster-socialist community that many people dislike and resent. But I really want to scream to the world: there are other solutions! Please do not lose hope, please do not be deceived by those liars, please believe in this world a little more!