Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, often associated with Centrist politics in the country, addresses the people in Ottawa (Image: Wikimedia Commons).
The Republican and Democratic campaigns for the 2016 US Presidential elections are suggestive of the wider public sentiment across the globe — that of a gradual decline of centrist politics in favor of either the far-right or the far-left sentiment. In their 2016 US Presidential election campaigns, prominent Republican candidates such as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich have repeatedly invoked religious sentiments in order to gain support from the conservative segments of the society. Donald Trump, who marches on with his Make America Great Again campaign, has openly declared that he intends to temporarily ban the entry of Muslims into the US. Trump's campaign has the support of white supremacists, anti-Muslim citizens, and others who see 'undue' engagement with the 'outside' world as an exercise in futility.
This rise in right-wing ideology and decline in centrist thought is in no way limited to the US. In Europe, xenophobic organizations such as Pegida have come to represent the far right. Given the politics of identity and religion that has followed the entry of Middle Eastern migrants into Europe the far-right seems only too well poised for a resurgence in the continent, and it is the centrist thought that is likely to suffer as an outcome.
The condition of centrist ideology in the Middle East is even more alarming. With the rise of Daesh (IS) and several smaller organizations such as the Al-Nusra front there has been a fervent resurgence of extremist right-wing ideology which was missing until Arab strongmen such as Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Bashar al-Assad held absolute power in their countries. During the past decade, there has been a hardening of right-wing sentiment even in established Middle Eastern democracies such as Turkey and Israel.
In South Asia, numerous cases of progressive bloggers meeting a quick and terrible fate in Bangladesh for criticizing religion point towards the rise of right-wing sentiment in that country. In Pakistan, cases of Christians being targeted and Hindus being driven out into India or forcibly converted have caused even greater alarm. In India, there is a marked, new-found interest in politics over beef and patriotism. The decline of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) — a centrist albeit notoriously corrupt and inept political alliance — has created a vacuum that is being filled by either the left or the right wing forces.
The rise of the right is not isolated to the above mentioned examples. There has a been case in Indonesia of a Christian woman from the Aceh province being punished under Sharia law, which is meant to be observed by Muslims. However, one recent development of a welcome check on right wing vigilantism comes, unexpectedly, from Saudi Arabia, in which curbs have been introduced by the Saudi government in an attempt to limit the powers of its religious police.
Leftist sentiment, too, has been experiencing an unprecedented resurgence of its own since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of Cold War, and this may lead to various segments of the global population shifting away from the centrist position. What has been remarkable is that a tilt towards leftist thought has even become visible among a section of population in countries which have historically been averse to it, most notably the United States of America.
The popular Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders — a self confessed Social Democrat — continues to castigate Wall Street in his 2016 Presidential campaign, often attacking large companies such as JP Morgan and General Electric for 'destroying the fabric of America'. The veteran politician has been tremendously popular among younger voters to whom he has promised tuition free education at public colleges and universities if he is elected as President.
A similar section of left-leaning voters in India can perhaps relate with Sander's rhetoric, having elected the self-described 'anarchist' Arvind Kejriwal as the Chief Minister of Delhi. Kejriwal, too, promised to rally against Indian companies such as Reliance and Adani and deliver a host of free services to the people using government funds. One year down the road he has yet to deliver but the popularity of his leftist message has not yet subsided. In India, the rise of the left has also manifested recently in provocative, pro-socialist sloganeering by leftist student unions, most notably from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). This is especially remarkable given the country's failed experiment with socialism that led to widespread poverty and lack of development which was only checked when India embraced free-market economy as a part of its 1991 reforms.
Leftist sentiment in the United Kingdom has also been on the rise with the popularity of politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn reaching unprecedented levels. There is some pro-democracy sentiment in regions administered by China — such as Hong Kong — but overall, leftist ideals in the People's Republic do not seem to be greatly challenged even after the emergence of economic reforms. In communist states such as North Korea a departure from leftist ideals in favor of centrism is not even conceivable.
However, centrism does not appear to be entirely disappearing yet. In Canada, the centrist Liberal Party came to power in 2015 with Justin Trudeau assuming office as the 23rd Prime Minister of the country. Centrist ideals seem to be doing well in the country as Trudeau's popularity continues to grow at home and abroad. There is some evidence to suggest that the incumbent David Cameron administration in the UK may be pursuing a centre-right agenda in order to gain a larger following for the Conservative Party. In India, the incumbent NDA government has also embraced the motto Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas (Cooperation from Everyone; Development for Everyone) to emphasize on its centre-right position.
However, the most visible face of centrist politics in a world where centrism is being increasingly challenged by both the far-right and the far-left, often in the same countries, seems to be Hillary Clinton. Clinton has, unlike others, steadfastly refused to tilt too far either to the left or to the right of the political spectrum during her 2016 US Presidential campaign. Clinton has confirmed that she has Christian religious beliefs but she does not seem to be willing to enforce them on others, and she has been receptive to the idea of accommodating and welcoming people from other faiths — including Muslims — to the US. As a liberal candidate she has repeatedly reiterated her pro-LGBT values and has taken a progressive stance on issues such as race relations and immigration.
In conclusion, centrism is in an advanced state of global decline although it does remain as the dominant ideology in some parts of the world. Only time will tell if more politicians can find a balance between left and right ideologies and still manage to emerge as leaders in the international system. But for now global politics seems to be heading away from the centre on a scale that has been unprecedented in recent times.
Manoj Saxena is the Editor of South Asia News Review.