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Under The Radar – 01 October

By Element5 for Unsplash

This week, we discuss:

  1. The first female Prime Minister in the Arab World

  2. A fortuitous victory for the SDP in Germany

  3. Japan’s newest Prime Minister

The first female Prime Minister in the Arab World

What happened?

Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, has named the first female prime minister in the country’s history. Najla Bouden Romdhane’s appointment comes as a first not only for the country, but also for the region, as no woman has held the premiership in the Arab world before. What does it mean? In a symbolic sense, this is certainly an important step, as millions of women across the country will be able to see themselves in the image of the PM.  Bouden Romdhane is a geophysics professor and has worked at the Ministry of Education implementing World Bank projects. However, she remains a relatively unknown figure in the world of politics, so her appointment came as a surprise to many. Despite being a first for the Arab world, her role as PM remains little more than a symbolic achievement that is eclipsed by the fact that Tunisia has, over the past summer, undergone a reorganisation of its power structure, with the president sacking the previous PM and suspending certain parts of the constitution.  Saied has essentially been ruling by decree, in what his political opponents have called a coup. Thus, Romdhane’s appointment arrives at a time of political uncertainty, when the democratic gains achieved during the 2011 Arab Spring revolution seem for many to be at risk. Whether the new premier will make a difference – for women and democracy – remains to be seen.

A fortuitous victory for the SDP in Germany

What happened? Germany’s federal election took place on Sunday, in what was a tight race between the outgoing Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats (SPD), with the SPD securing a narrow victory.

What does this mean? Though the SDP claimed victory, it would be a mistake to regard this as a successful set of results for a few reasons. Firstly, there isn’t a provision in the constitution that allows the largest party to unilaterally select the Chancellor, which means numerous coalitions are possible. The tightness of this contest combined with Germany’s partial Proportional Representation system, means the Greens and the Free Liberals, who received 26% of the vote between them, will be kingmakers in any government. Secondly, the SPD, who despite playing second fiddle to the centre-right CDU since 2005, should have benefitted from being one of only two major parties in German politics since the 1990s. Losing 26% of potential voters to two much smaller parties, including the 6.8 million centre left voters who went Green, is a concern. Finally, the SDP were dealt a lucky hand. The Christian Democrats and Greens chose weak, unpopular candidates for the Chancellorship. Indeed, until a few months ago, they were on track for their worst electoral performance in more than 70 years. The political reality is that this election is less a ringing endorsement of the SDP, and more a vote against the discredited alternatives. The SDP must make the most of this fortuitous victory if they are to become a credible force in German politics again.

Japan’s newest Prime Minister

What happened?

Fumio Kishida, former foreign minister, has won his party’s leadership competition, putting him on course to replace outgoing Yoshihide Suga as Japan’s Prime Minister. The tightly contested race ended in a runoff vote that saw Kishida triumph over outspoken, popular maverick candidate, Taro Kono.  Kishida will now lead his beleaguered party in the upcoming General Election.   What does it mean? Wednesday’s leadership contest was a much tighter fight than expected.  It was also the first time the party elections have fielded multiple female candidates – in a country where just 14% of parliamentary seats are occupied by women. This progress was limited though, as the two female candidates, Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda, bowed out in the first round of voting.  Opinion polls suggested that the public were eager for change, backing the outspoken American-educated Taro Kono. Fumio Kishida, on the other hand, had little public backing, but was seen as a consensus builder and a safe set of hands.  Fumio Kishida will take over from Yoshihide Suga and will try to turn around his predecessor’s struggling government before a General Election that must be held by the end of November.  The Liberal Democrat Party needed a reliable leader that the Japanese could trust following Suga’s unpopular decision to press ahead with the Tokyo Olympics in defiance of public opinion. In Kishida, they’ve opted for a safety-first candidate – does he have what it takes? 

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. ‘Labour looks aimless because it’s already searching for Starmer’s replacement’ by Rafael Behr for The Guardian

  2. ‘We’re already barreling toward the next pandemic’ by Ed Yong for The Atlantic

  3. ‘Britain is paying the price for pushing should-be manual workers into university education’ by Ross Clark for The Telegraph

  4. ‘The strange death of American democracy’ by Martin Wolf for The Financial Times

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