GLOBAL JOURNALIST: Interesting elections in Britain, the Philippines; crisis continues in Greece

Friday, May 7, 2010 | 11:16 a.m. CDT; updated 10:03 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stuart Loory, Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies, Missouri School of Journalism: (NOTE: The polls in Britain's election were not closed when this program was produced, so we could not report report results.) The Conservative Party, which looks like it might get the most votes overall, needs to capture 326 seats in Parliament to form a government. The situation is complicated this year by the rise of the Liberal Democratic Party, which could pull as many or more votes than the ruling Labour Party. If none of those three parties wins a majority, there will be a hung parliament.

There are always elections going on somewhere on our planet, and on Monday, voters in the Philippines will select a new president and Congress. The campaign there has been marred by controversy over new voting machines, as well as a violent uprising by Maoists in rural areas and ethnic problems involving the rights of the large Muslim minority in the country. And Greece is a country where in the economic collapse, street demonstrations have overtaken politic,s and the impact is being felt throughout the European Union. Let’s start in the U.K. Is it likely that any of the three parties will win a majority in Parliament?

Eric Pfanner, reporter, International Herald Tribune; Paris: The latest polls on the eve of the election were showing a slight swing in the direction of the Conservatives under David Cameron. So there is a chance they could pull out a majority in Parliament in the end, although it still looked unlikely. The problem is a lot of voters were undecided at the last minute — up to a third of the voters — so that makes it very unpredictable.

Loory: Tell us a little bit about the issues in this campaign.

Pfanner: There is obviously the overriding issue of the economic crisis, which has a lot of people concerned. They’re watching what is happening in Greece and saying we’re in another country here with really high debt — we don’t want to end up like that. You have a lot of anger in Britain against the government because of the scandal last year over the expense account of members of Parliament. Immigration is a hot button there, probably heightened by the economic crisis as well. You’ve got all these things working in different directions for the different parties.

Loory: It sounds like you’re talking about the United States.

Pfanner: I suppose a lot of these issues are similar in a lot of places, but the interesting thing in Britain is that this three-party system has triangulated things in this election for the first time.

Loory: Tell us a little bit about how this election is being viewed in the EU.

Teri Schultz, EU correspondent and freelance reporter, Global Post and NPR; Brussels, Belgium: People in the EU are very interested in seeing who comes to power in the U.K. Cameron makes it more interesting because he is a leading figure in Euro-skepticism. He used to say he wanted to pull Britain out of the EU. He pulled his party out of the largest political grouping in the European Parliament, so Brussels is waiting to see whether someone with that attitude toward the EU comes to power. Conventional wisdom says he would not be as anti-EU if he were to get into office. It is always easier if you are the opposition. There would be some changes in the flavor of the British membership in the EU, but none of the three candidates are talking about joining the euro currency. Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democratic Party is somebody who has caused a lot of excitement here because he is seen as very European. He is kind of a breath of fresh air to the Europeans, but he is probably not going to top the polls today.

Loory: Tell us a little bit about what is going on in Greece.

Nick Malkoutzis, deputy editor, Kathimerini English Edition; Athens: The Greek parliament will be voting on a package of historic measures that Greece has to adopt in order to qualify for the emergency loans that it is getting from the International Monetary Fund and its eurozone partners. That is 110 billion euros that Greece will be getting over the next two years, so the government is arguing its case in Parliament. The parallel story is the fallout from the deaths of the three bank employees who were burned to death when rioters threw Molotov cocktails into a bank in central Athens. The bank was open during a mass protest against the austerity measures. The mood today has been very somber. Despite the deaths, the unions are continuing with their protests. Obviously, they don’t feel that these deaths were in any way linked with their protests against the measures.

Loory: Will the public stand for these measures, as it will mean hardship for the Greek people?

Malkoutzis: These are the toughest measures that will ever have been passed in this country. We’re talking about public servants losing about 20 percent of their pay, pensions cut, retirement qualification age changing, taxes going up. The unions are adamant that they will not accept the measures, but beyond holding protests or striking, they really don’t have any other tools.

Loory: In the election in the Philippines on Monday, what is the situation there?

Carlos Conde, freelance reporter, The New York Times; Manila, Philippines: There has been violence here, but that has not been the concern of many Filipinos. A lot of Filipinos are anxious about the elections because for the first time we are going to have a fully automated election. The preparation by the government election commission has not been adequate, to put it mildly. There has been a lot of anxiety about whether automation would go on smoothly and whether it would produce results that candidates would not contest. The automation process that was put in place by the government last year is supposed to deal with these problems of cheating and fraud.

Loory: Can the automation cut down on corruption?

Conde: It is difficult to say at this point whether that would do the trick. What the government wants to see happen is it would speed up the election process. The manual elections take weeks or months. With this automation process, they expect the winners to be announced two days after voting. Analysts and officials say that if this automation program is successful, this would have long-term effects on how democracy is practiced in the Philippines. This would definitely make campaigning here much more issue-focused. Of course, there are other issues here. We expect the violence to escalate in the next few days.

Loory: Of these three situations — the election in the U.K., the economic crisis and the political fallout in Greece or the elections in the Philippines — which is the most important to the U.S.?

Anthony Mughan, professor of political science, The Ohio State University; Columbus, Ohio: I think undoubtedly the Greek crisis. This has implications for the future of the euro as well as implications for U.S. trading relations. The only thing that matters in the U.K. elections is whether the U.S. is more inclined to retain what is called a special relationship with either party. President Obama doesn’t seem inclined to see Britain as a particularly valued ally in the same way as Bush did. The Philippines is not a power in the world. It doesn’t have the implications of Greece going broke.

Loory: It does have national security implications for the U.S., doesn’t it?

Mughan: Yes, but not major. As far as we know, the Philippines has a lot of domestic insurgency. It is not a hotbed of breeding terrorists, and it is a stable ally in the region. That is not going to change with this election. Not much is at stake with this election in the Philippines, at least from the U.S. perspective.

Loory: Are the British concerned about not being as important as they once were?

Pfanner: I think a lot of people in Britain would be quite happy not to be on the A-list of an American president. Of course, it is a valued relationship. There are a lot of people in Britain who would rather be close to the U.S. than to Europe.

Loory: There is some talk that the crisis in Greece will perhaps get to the point where it could actually pull down the EU. Is that a possibility?

Schultz: I think there is more talk about pulling down the eurozone than the EU. There are 16 countries that share the euro currency, and there are 11 countries that don’t have the euro but are no less concerned about the crisis. German chancellor Angela Merkel was dragged kicking and screaming into supporting the loan for Greece, but she realized that it is out of self-interest. I think that the 15 leaders — other than Greece — have banded together to save the euro, by which they all live and die. I don’t think it is fathomable what would happen if the euro completely bottomed out.

Loory: Obviously these are interesting times for governments — even the strong democracies in the world.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Youn-Joo Park, Angela Potrykus, Melissa Ulbricht, Tim Wall and Megan Wiegand. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.

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