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22 April 2017 Editorial


22 APRIL 2017

Divided they stand

AIADMK impasse

The two AIADMK groups are confused, being faced with conflicting pulls and pressures

The decision of the ruling faction of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK (Amma), to distance itself from members of the V.K. Sasikala family comes at a time when there is an unmistakable and growing public resentment against them. This has been compounded by what is allegedly Ms. Sasikala's nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran's latest folly - a brazen attempt to bribe Election Commission officials to secure the election symbol of Two Leaves; the AIADMK's deputy general secretary and other family members were becoming a political liability. At the same time, with the EC freezing the symbol, a section of the AIADMK (Amma) leadership saw a reunification with the splinter formation headed by former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam as essential to long-term survival. The choice seemed one between swimming together or sinking separately. Interestingly, neither Ms. Sasikala nor Mr. Dhinakaran seems to be putting up any stiff resistance to the ouster. Also, many in the group perceived to be close to the Sasikala family went along with the decision without a whimper. Given this, there is suspicion that the ‘ouster', forced by circumstances and carried out in the larger interest, was not entirely bereft of a little stage management.

Ms. Sasikala and Mr. Dhinakaran may well regard what transpired as a strategic retreat rather than an irrevocable order to political exile. Both are aware they have at least a handful of diehard loyalists within the ruling camp - possibly enough to threaten the Edappadi K. Palaniswami government's narrow majority in the Assembly. Many ministers remain beholden to the family and may well find it difficult to antagonise their one-time benefactors. It will be no surprise if both strive to retain their political influence, even while appearing reconciled to being sidelined. The party's television channels, its publications, and resources remain in the control of the Sasikala clan. A shared desire for political stability, reflected in the fact that no MLA would want an immediate election, could ward off a total rupture in the ranks. Indeed, if such stability is to be reinforced and is to sustain in the longer run, a patch-up with the rival AIADMK faction is the only viable course. However, for the Panneerselvam faction, merging with the AIADMK (Amma) presents both an opportunity and a cause for dilemma. While they may get to rejoin the government, the worry lies in the risk of being swamped by the rival group. Also, given that the Panneerselvam faction was formed on the basis of opposition towards the Sasikala family, it would be suicidal to merge with the AIADMK (Amma) in the absence of clarity about the real nature of the ouster. The moves and counter-moves currently afoot reflect conflicting pulls and pressures - the basic dilemma here being the conflict between reflecting the public mood and remaining together for the sake for political power.

At the crossroads

French elections

UPDATED: APRIL 21, 2017 23:30 IST

The presidential election will have a profound effect on France's future. And also Europe's

French voters have defied predictions time and again. In 1995, Jacques Chirac, a Gaullist conservative who had been trailing in opinion polls, won the presidency. In 2002 they sent Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right, Holocaust-denying leader of the National Front, to the second round, only to defeat him there. As they prepare to head to the polls on Sunday, predictions are even more difficult. Of the 11 candidates in the fray, four are seen to be leading contenders for the second round on May 7, when the top two face off against each other. Historically, French politics has been divided between the conservatives and the socialists. This balance between the establishment parties is being tested this time with three ‘outsiders' among the four leading candidates - independent Emmanuel Macron, the National Front's Marine Le Pen and leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Some opinion polls still give a chance to the conservative candidate, François Fillon, but he is mired in a corruption scandal. The Socialists, directionless after five years of François Hollande's highly unpopular presidency, appear to be out of the race even before polling for the first round begins. The four-way race offers a picture of the issues that shape the election agenda.

While Mr. Macron promises to launch gradual economic and labour reforms and retain the status quo in foreign policy, Mr. Fillon wants radical reforms, including an overhaul of the labour code and sacking of public servants en masse, and closer ties with Vladimir Putin's Russia. Ms. Le Pen, a eurosceptic, is consolidating her base on anti-immigration and anti-globalisation rhetoric, much like Donald Trump did in the U.S. elections last year. Mr. Mélenchon, who surged in the polls in the last weeks of the campaign, stays focussed on economic issues with promises to raise public spending and taxes on the rich. The country's political and business establishment might prefer the victory of Mr. Macron as the other pro-business candidate is facing corruption allegations. But the outcome is anything but uncertain, given that a substantial chunk of voters remains undecided and that the kind of anti-establishment anger that helped Mr. Trump and Britain's pro-Brexit camp remains strong in France as well. The unemployment rate is over 20% among the youth, while economic growth never really revived after the 2008 financial crisis. Besides, security concerns remain paramount after the terror attacks in Paris and Nice over the past 18 months. Thursday night's shooting in Paris that killed a policeman, and was claimed by the Islamic State, exposes how volatile the security situation is - something that Ms. Le Pen's campaign is trying to cash in on during the final stretch. In many ways this will be the most crucial election in France's modern history. Its results will have profound implications not just on French politics but also on the future of the European Union.

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