The Year Ahead

There is a tendency for people at this time of year to engage in looking back at the past year and looking forward to the coming one. Individuals do this, reflecting on their challenges and successes over the year and trying to predict what the future may hold and what they hope to acheive over the next twelve months. Similarly, institutions do this, including political parties and companies, and the media also engage in reviews and predictions of news events. I’m not interested here in reviewing what has happened, but I will offer my thoughts of what to expect in the coming months. Obviously predictions are little more than best guesses, and most are invariably wrong – so don’t be surprised if all my guesses are far off!

Internationally

I don’t think we’re out of the economic crisis yet. I’m pretty sure the Eurozone will go into a double-dip recession (if it hasn’t already!), and that the stability or growth in North America will be more illusory than real, being largely based on credit-fuelled mirages of prosperity (ironically a fundamental cause of the crisis in the first place), and that bubble of credit may very well burst at any time (although, with it being a US Presidential year I imagine the Presidency will do it’s utmost to maintain the bubble). The world is, in my opinion, in the midst of the transfer of power from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with the recovery of Japan, ongoing growth in Malaysia/Indonesia and, primarily, China, being the main engines of growth next year, as well as the general centre of capitalist power. America will continue, of course, but I do think we are seeing the decline of empire there, albeit one with still immense power, especially military. I don’t think China is quite going to eclipse the Americans, but they are catching up and at least making for a more multi-polar world than the superpower domination of the US that we have seen since the collapse of the Soviets in the late 1980s.

I am fairly confident that there will be a new Gazan war, as well as some degree of ongoing confrontation with Iran, if not all out war. This will have some profound effects on the direction the ‘Arab Spring’ will develop. Israeli aggression towards the Palestinans could easily focus Egypt on the problem, diverting the revolutionary movement there and even leading to active intervention, which itself will have profound implications for the region and global geopolitics. Confrontation with Iran could very easily be exploited to undermine further reform movements in the Gulf region, as seen in the ongoing repression of Shia majorities in Bahrain and the (oil-rich) east of Saudi Arabia (where demonstrators are depicted as an Iranian Fifth Coloumn and attacked accordingly). The fall-out from both a war with Iran, both in the initial confrontation and resulting death, destruction and interruption of oil supplies, and post-war (if Iran loses, who controls their oil?). More important, or of interest to me, is the situation of the Kurdish peoples of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. This ethnic group has long fought for the establishment of a formal state, Kurdistan, and have been persecuted accordingly by the four formal States in question. The Iraqi Kurds now have some autonomy and will form the nucleus of any new Kurdish State or movement towards it. With increasing friction between Shia and Sunni in Iraq, they may very well seek to set out on their own. With the crisis in Syria, the Kurds there could also take advantage of the chaos there to restart their independence movements. And the ongoing (and increased) oppression of Kurds in Turkey could prove to be the proverbial spark to lit the Kurdish fire.

Elsewhere, I expect famine and chaos in the African Sahel, with the economic crisis and regime change in Libya having profound impact there, both in the loss of remittances (which may have averted the famine) and the flood of weapons and forces and leaders previously sheltered by Gaddafi initiating conflicts throughout the region. Somalia continues to be problematic and, with the Kenyans now joining the Ethiopians in Somali fighting, risks spreading war throughout the horn of Africa. The instability in Yemen is likely to further exacerbate the situation in the Horn of Africa, and with Egyptian concerns about the security of waterflows in the Nile (affected by activities in Kenya, namely agriculture and deforestation, also in Tanzania and new developments in South Sudan), as well as the ongoing low-level conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, make the entire north-east of Africa a risky area for conflict next year. Southern Africa too could see some changes depending on internal battles in the ANC on the direction of their national democratic revolution since the fall of Apartheid, instability in Swaziland and the potential retirment or death of Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, despite expected natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, especially the ongoing misery of Haiti) the key focus of my attention will be elections in Mexico and Venezuala, and the ongoing reforms in Cuba. At the moment though I’m thinking Latin America will have a relatively quiet year. I expect in Europe a series of extremist attacks, of both left-wing (anarchists particularly) and right-wing (racist, anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant) varieties, with a particular rise in the support of the right there. While I can see some counter-culture, leftist, movements arising there I expect them to be eclipsed by the right. In America however, the Occupy movement has the potential to develop into something akin to the protest movements of the 1960s, although I fear they have lost their steam and will be subsumed by the upcoming Presidential elections.

Domestically

I am not optimistic about the next year for Bermuda. Perhaps it is the rain this afternoon, or my experience of looking for work here for the last six months. In general though I think, economically, next year will be bad. I expect if not more unemployment then at least a deepening of the situation for the already unemployed as they run out of savings and their support network continues to tighten belts. I expect a series of repossessions and mortgage defaults, and general despair amongst these individuals, including the new working poor. I don’t see any reduction in the gang violence, and with the cuts to social services I wouldn’t be surprised if this even has a knock on effect in this area, at least in the indirect and long-term sense.

Politically, despite the reversals of PLP policies by Premier Cox, and her the increasingly pro-business direction of the PLP (as seen by recent Senate appointments and candidate announcements), I think that PLP support will continue to decline. The swing voters who were key to the 1998 and all subsequent elections, I feel are increasingly finding the OBA attractive. I don’t think this is so much due to the personalities or policies of the OBA, or even the merger of the BDA with the majority UBP to make the OBA. If anything I think had the UBP continued they would be benefitting as much as the OBA today is. People are tired of perceived or real abuses of power under the PLP, and the PLP is also being blamed (rightly or wrongly) for the economic problems Bermuda is facing. As such the OBA is benefitting in truth from three factors. One, the middle-class swing voters, noted above, are willing to switch their vote to the OBA. Two, a large segment of the youth vote has known no other Government than the PLP and as such are willing to express their frustrations by voting OBA. Third, a number of the core supporters of the PLP are dissatisfied with the failure of the PLP to really make any substantial changes to the structural injustices of Bermudian society, and with the influx of previously opposed persons and policies into the forefront of Party thought and publicity, are likely to either stay at home or spoil their ballots.

While the PLP may still win the next election, as things stand today I think the OBA has a very strong chance of winning the next election. This would not be the end of the world, and as much as the PLP may dislike it, it may actually allow the PLP to engage in a period of introspection and put the Party back on it’s original platform of being a party of social justice. As the current policies of the OBA and the PLP are not really all that different, I’m not really expecting there to be that much of a policy-change, although I would expect the OBA to advocate more privatisation of the public sphere than the PLP.

To be clear, I am not endorsing the OBA here. Far from it. I am just giving my observation of the current situation. The PLP may still recover, but it has an uphill battle at the moment. It needs to really provide a clear direction of its vision for the country today, as well as hope the economy can rebound in time for this to translate into PLP votes (from the swing voters). They will also look to exploit any OBA mis-steps, and to more clearly differentiate their policies from the OBAs.

The potential increase in Islamic Finance arising from the new Governments in North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt), which are likely to be dominated by moderate Islamic parties (who have already won the parliamentary elections in Morocco and Tunisia in the last few months, both of whom have advocated Islamic Finance in their platforms) could boost Bermuda, especially as the Premier Cox has been actively pushing this option as an element of a more diverse economic platform for Bermuda, and this could serve to boost the PLP’s chances in the coming months.

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