What you need to know
Other political scandals across the globe that deserve attention.
By Ian Bremmer
Controversies involving U.S. President Donald Trump continue to generate global headlines. But there are plenty of other political scandals in the world that deserve our attention. Here are a few to keep tabs on in 2017:
1.France's tarnished conservative candidate
France’s 2017 presidential election has always come down to a single question: who emerges to challenge far-right firebrand Marine Le Pen in the second round run-off? Polls have consistently shown Le Pen winning the first round (currently polling at 26 percent), only to see her lose with similar consistency in the second round.
That’s why Francois Fillon of the center-right Les Republicains, the odds-on favorite to win the presidency just two months ago, just won’t quit despite a continuing scandal. Fillon has been accused of hiring his wife as a parliamentary aide and paying her €900,000 (US$959,000) over a period of years without proof that she did any work.
But Le Pen’s apparent weakness has Fillon convinced that if he just rides out the current storm, the presidency is still his to lose— eerily reminiscent of the 16 GOP presidential candidates in 2016 who all thought Trump’s days were numbered. Fillon has fallen to third place in recent polls. The longer he stays in the race and bloodies his rivals, particularly centrist Emmanuel Macron, the more likely that Le Pen pulls the upset.
2. A school for scandal in Japan
Japan’s current controversy began with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his possible ties to a private kindergarten in Osaka, which has allegedly promoted derogatory views of ethnic Chinese and Koreans. While Abe has been quick to disavow any links, the fact that he has singled out the school’s chairman as someone who shares “an ideology similar to mine” in the past isn’t doing him any favors. It gets worse — the same educational organization bought a plot of land for a planned “Shinzo Abe Memorial Elementary School.” The school paid US$1.2 million for land appraised at US$8.4 million. Abe critics accuse the prime minister of corruption — his wife, Akie Abe, who was supposed to serve as honorary principal of the school, resigned last week.
Shinzo Abe has promised to step down if he or his wife are found guilty of any wrongdoing. That’s a bold statement, but one Abe feels comfortable making when his personal approval rating is north of 60 percent, and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is in firm control of the country’s politics and its parliament. And given that his party decided to change party rules to allow Abe to run for a third term just this weekend, this particular scandal doesn’t look to be derailing Abe’s political fortunes anytime soon.
3. An overturning of the political order in South Korea
Then there are the scandals that transform a country’s politics. For decades, South Korean politicians have had exceedingly close relations with “chaebols,” the family-run conglomerates that drive the South Korean economy. President Park Geun-hye is no exception; she was impeached by parliament this past December and temporarily removed from office so a special prosecutor could conduct a 90-day investigation. Just this week, that special prosecutor requested indictment proceedings begin against Park for, among other things, conspiring to accept US$38 million in bribes from Samsung.
The Constitutional Court ruled Friday to uphold her impeachment and removed her from office, a decision supported by 77 percent of the public, according to a recent poll. Elections will now be held within the next 60 days, and chaebol reform will be a dominant campaign theme — one that looks increasingly likely to elect a left-of-center government that will be much less willing to support the aggressive posture the U.S. has traditionally taken against North Korea. That would inject yet more volatility into the region.
4. Nigeria's President in absentia
This one isn’t a scandal in the traditional sense, but this story is still generating controversy at the highest levels of government. The continued absence from the country of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. The 74-year old former military dictator, who won an election in 2015, has been in London for treatment of an undisclosed illness since Jan. 19. Rumors about his health have run rampant in the interim, and statements from his office have done little to tamp things down.
Part of the problem is Nigeria’s history — when democracy was restored in 1999, an informal agreement was struck that the presidency would rotate between a Muslim northerner and a Christian southerner. There have been just two northern Muslims to hold the presidency since then. The first, Umaru Yar’Adua, died in office after a long illness; the second is Buhari.
His absence also hamstrings the government at a time when the fight against Boko Haram is ongoing and the country's economy contracted 1.5 percent in 2016, its first annual contraction in 25 years. Then there are the optics of the whole situation; it’s more than a little bit embarrassing that the largest economy in Africa can’t produce a hospital worthy of its president.
5. The Latin American graft scandal that just won't stop growing
The most destabilizing scandal in the world today emanates from Latin America. The "Lava Jato" (Car Wash) corruption probe in Brazil — which unearthed evidence that Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras was awarding government contracts in exchange for bribes — has roiled Brazilian politics for years, and has already toppled President Dilma Rousseff.
As it turns out, the corruption didn’t stop at Brazil’s borders. Odebrecht, the family-owned Brazilian construction giant that was paying Petrobras tens of millions in bribes, has also admitted to paying bribes throughout Latin America and parts of Africa. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Odebrecht paid more than US$700 million in bribes to officials of several Central and South American governments in exchange for more than US$2.8 billion in benefits. Late last year, as part of a plea deal, Odebrecht agreed to pay a record US$3.5 billion in global penalties.
The fallout is far from over. The government of Venezuela, implicated in the investigation, has so many other problems that the Odebrecht revelations are just another drop in the bucket; Argentina has elected new leaders since the revelations broke. Others aren’t nearly as lucky — while Odebrecht agreed to pay an initial US$8.9 million to Peru in compensation, the US$7 billion gas pipeline deal the firm was forced to abandon could reduce Peruvian GDP by up to 1 percent. Similar projects have been put on hold in the Dominican Republic and Panama. In a globalized world, scandals sometimes cross borders too.
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TNL Editor: Olivia Yang