“Predicting is the art of saying what will happen and then explaining why it didn’t”, goes the old saying. Nevertheless, it’s healthy for political commentators to stick their necks out and predict what may happen in the coming year. So, crossing my fingers, here are some for 2019!
Now into the second half of his first term, which many Americans hope will be his only term, President Donald Trump will continue to prove his critics correct, displaying bullying, impatience, irresponsibility, intellectual laziness, short temperedness and self-obsession. Despite these criticisms, his approval ratings have been consistent at about 40% and will remain at that level, due to the core followers on the hard right who have benefited from tax cuts and who strongly approved his packing of the Supreme Court with right-leaning judges. His “America first” policy will continue to develop into an “America alone” policy as he fails to develop any coherent set of foreign policy objectives, relying on sporadic fits of belligerence or enthusiasm.
The Democratic Party will decide not to impeach Trump when Robert Mueller reports in the spring, recalling the positive effect this had on President Bill Clinton, who went on to win the subsequent election in 1997. Even when tax-fraud charges are brought against Trump following investigations into the use of funds from his Trump Foundation, the Democrats will prefer to let him carry on severely wounded until the 2020 presidential elections. The Republican Party, however, will take fright at being demolished in the 2020 elections if Trump remains President. After a titanic battle they will create a resignation path for him, which he will reluctantly accept, with the promise of a pardon from President Mike Pence.
Trade wars will moderate between America and China, as each side seeks to minimise the problems created by Trump’s initiative. China’s GDP will continue to slow, resulting in a cloud over the world economy. President Xi Jinping will roll out more fiscal and monetary policies aimed at boosting domestic demand in his attempt to minimise the impact of the fall of GDP to a forecast 6.2%, well below the 7.4% for India. Brushing aside international criticism, Xi will continue to suppress or “re-educate” minorities such as the Muslim Uyghurs. He will also expand surveillance using Artificial Intelligence to stiffen control over the whole population, thereby minimising opposition to single-party rule in China.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin will celebrate the 20th anniversary of his rise to the top level of Russian politics. Noting that his popularity rating fell from 82% to 66% (still a rating Trump would die for) because of the unpopularity of his pension reforms, Putin will be more circumspect in bringing in other much-needed reforms to correct the unbalanced Russian economy. His ability to do so will be determined by the oil price, on which Russia’s economy so much depends, and at a current price of $54 a barrel there is still a margin over the $40 on which the current budget is based. However, discontent among Russian voters will continue throughout 2019 unless the economy substantially improves. Putin will use his traditional distraction technique against problems at home with continued campaigns in Syria and Ukraine as America withdraws and fails to act against Russia’s aggression in the Sea of Azov.
Turning to Europe, populist parties will improve their representation in the European Union elections on 23 May. Voters traditionally use the European elections to show their anger at their governments, so with Emmanuel Macron’s ratings in France and Angela Merkel’s in Germany being at record lows, new populist MEPs will create total paralysis in the EU Parliament, resulting in gridlock in important areas such as Eurozone reform and immigration.
Overriding all this is Britain’s imminent departure from the EU (Brexit). Brexit is causing mayhem in the Westminster Parliament, with both major parties split on the issue. The current “May” deal with the EU will be voted down when it is finally presented to Parliament next week, leading to impasse in Westminster. Prime Minister Theresa May will try to run down the clock but most Parliamentarians see the potential disaster of a “no-deal” departure and as a last resort will seek to extend the deadline for UK’s departure from the EU to allow a “people’s vote” to take place in June. With current opinion polls showing a healthy desire to remain, Britain will unilaterally withdraw its decision to leave the EU, ruled permissible by the European Court, much to the relief of the other 27 countries.
My final prediction is the success of Narendra Modi in the 2019 elections, although the result will be close. As an “Indiaphile observer”, I have tracked the recent success of Rahul Gandhi, which has followed a similar pattern to that of opposition parties at Westminster. Gandhi has carefully analysed the reasons for the 2014 failure and has sought to correct them. Hence the word “humility” is appearing regularly in his speeches, a clear recognition of the arrogance of the 10 years of power prior to the 2014 drubbing. He has also realised the importance of the Hindu vote, leading to charges against him of being a “born-again” Hindu moving from secular to soft Hindutva. Gandhi is shedding old legacies and positioning himself as an aggressive underdog, emerging as a campaigner and strategist who can now present himself as a prime challenger to Modi. Encouraged by recent wins in the Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan Assembly elections, Gandhi’s prospects have been enhanced. However, with India’s economy remaining strong, benefiting Prime Minister Modi, Gandhi will narrowly lose the elections to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha and will have to be satisfied by being the Leader of the Opposition. “We approach the idea of Opposition unity with humility and respect. We share many ideas with other Opposition parties and the goal is to work together”, his words reflecting an ambition which will be achieved.
Happy New Year!
John Dobson worked in UK Prime Minister John Major’s Office between 1995 and 1998 and is presently Chairman of the Plymouth University of the Third Age.