Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Must we choose between corruption and populism?

The dramatic choice in the South African ANC (the party of Mandela) between a politician that was previously married to president Zuma and the key node in the network of political connections of private sector firms, illustrates two of the greatest challenges of democracy today: populism and corruption. Of course, I apologize for addressing a topic about which I have very little expertise. But what reaches this corner of the world is the legacy of one of the best political movements in history being ruined by two of the contemporary viruses in politics. The British magazine The Economist argues that Cyril Ramaphosa, the politician that became a business man to become now again a politician, is the better option, and it is the one that has been finally chosen. Now he is a multi-millionaire, rivalling perhaps with Silvio Berlusconi from Italy or with Sebastián Piñera from Chile as paradigms of vertical integration in politics. The alternative according to The Economist was a member of the Zuma clan, responsible for many allegations of corruption. In the recent past, this clan has tried to hide the allegations by adopting a populist face, attacking business elites, using methods according to some similar to the ones used by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Although business connections may be seen by some as a way to avoid short term political populism (by which I mean anti-elitist rhetoric to achieve immediate benefits at huge costs in the future), one fears that when these connections are illegitimate what they do is just to transfer any future benefits to an olygarchy. In Chile, the last presidential election was between the billionaire Piñera and a TV star, Guillier. In Italy next year, the choice may be between Berlusconi and a TV clown. Unless we find ways to reform politics and institutions in a serious and robust way, that is perhaps the kind of choices that we will be facing everywhere.

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