2009: The Year of Change

September, 2008
By Ilmas Futehally

One of the things that I mentioned in my last column “Geremek’s World” was the late Professor’s thinking on the future of Europe. When I met him in 2005, he had predicted that 2009 would be a year of change for Europe with many elections, including the election for the European Parliament to take place in 2009. He had said that maybe Europe would shine after that- depending on the kind of political decisions that the new leaders are able to take.

Change is in the air with major European countries UK, Germany and Norway scheduled to hold elections in 2009. And of course, the European Parliament is due for election in mid 2009- the largest trans-national election ever.

But it is not just Europe that is going to have new leaders, new policies and new alignments in the next year. The election scheduled to take place in the US later this year is being watched closely by people all over the world. If the “rest of the world” had a vote in the US elections, perhaps the outcome would be more predictable. It is clear how large tracts of Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa vote. How the US will vote in November is not. As it stands, Senator Barrack Obama’s promises to bring about the change that the country needs, while Senator McCain has recast himself as a soldier, ever ready to fight in the interest of the country. However in the Republican Convention, he too felt the need to announce that “change is coming”.

Change of leadership in large parts of Europe, along with the US will lead to a fundamental rethink in global policies and actions. Senator Obama has already announced the need to create a Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund for US $ 10 billion investment over five years and an investment of US $ 150 billion over a ten year period in energy technology. This addresses the need to reduce the US dependence on oil imports. This would obviously change the US policy in the Middle East in a manner that would bring about lasting peace and stability in the region.

The Middle East itself is expected to undergo a changing of the guard. Elections are scheduled in Lebanon in 2009 that are expected to decide on Lebanon’s relations with Syria, the future of Hizbullah's weapons and the fate of the Christian population.

Elections are also scheduled in Iran where President Ahmedinejad is expected to run for a second term. The main issue of the election is however, not expected to be the Iranian nuclear ambitions, that the international community is concerned about, but more domestic issues such as economic reform and inflation. Iraq too is expected to hold parliamentary elections in 2009.

In Asia, India, Japan and Indonesia are expected to go for elections in 2009. The general election outcome in India is unpredictable. Depending on the outcome, the course of the country could change fundamentally, both in terms of internal governance as well as its foreign policy and alignments. Japan too is expected to have a turbulent time ahead as for the first time, a censure motion was brought against a prime minister under Japan's post-war constitution in 2008. However, how long the new prime minister will last is uncertain in view of the fact that Japan has had 10 prime ministers in the 15 years. Japan’s economic problems along with its fast aging and shrinking population are not ones that can be solved easily. The issues that will be debated in Indonesia’s elections are also domestic ones such as economic growth, reduction of the unemployment and poverty rates.

So, many regions and countries across the world are scheduled to hold elections in the near future. Will these give rise to statesmen and women who will be able to change the course of the world by addressing major challenges of climate change, poverty and energy? Or will they just muddle along with their eyes on the next election further down the road? That 2009 is going to be a year of change is clear. Whether it will also be a year of hope and opportunity will have to be seen.

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