The leadership vacuum

People do not have confidence in their leaders – not only those in their own countries but also those whose actions affect the planet. In these difficult times there is a very strong sense that there are no policies that can lead us out of the impasse, nor any leaders who could propose solutions and also persuade their people to apply them. This estimate is based not on the situation in Greece nor on the way in which we view the world: A major study in 20 countries that represent 60 percent of the world’s population found that no leader inspires confidence. In response to the question «Which leader is expected to do the right thing?» President George W. Bush of the United States inspired confidence only in a majority of Nigerians and Indians, whereas the populations of all the other countries polled had no confidence in him. In his own country, 42 percent trust Bush to do the right thing whereas 56 percent do not. Only Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is in a worse position than Bush, inspiring confidence only in one country – China, where 37 percent have confidence in him compared to 30 percent who do not trust him. Gordon Brown of Britain has the confidence of the majority in six of 19 countries (the leader’s home country did not count in the poll). Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao each enjoyed a majority in five countries, French President Nicolas Sarkozy in four and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in three (China, India and Indonesia). Only UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received largely positive ratings, with more countries showing confidence in him than a lack of it (nine against eight). The other countries participating in the poll were Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the Palestinian territories, South Korea and Thailand. It was conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org, between January 10 and May 6 as part of a collaborative research project involving centers from around the world and is managed by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes. The fact that the UN’s Ban garners the most support suggests that many people worldwide believe the problems of our era are so great that they can only be solved through the work of international organizations. Very few knew Ban before his election as secretary-general but they expect solutions from his organization. Bush, whose country can shape the world’s course on its own, has shown with too many unilateral actions and with the war in Iraq that his decisions can be dangerous. Greece was not among the countries in the global poll. But a monthly poll conducted by the Public Issue company for Kathimerini and Skai showed that the Greeks are equally apprehensive about their leadership and their country’s future. In June, only 16 percent believed Greece was on the right track, down from 18 percent in May and 21 percent in April. Those who believe the country is on the wrong track climbed to 75 percent, from 70 percent in May and 66 percent in April. Soaring price hikes which are plaguing the whole world appear to be fanning the flames of pessimism here, too. So, even though 40 percent still consider Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to be the most suitable person for the office he holds, and only 25 percent would prefer to see PASOK leader George Papandreou as prime minister, a sizable 33 percent believe neither is fit for the job. (In April, 47 percent chose Karamanlis, 21 percent Papandreou and 29 percent chose «neither»). Under these circumstances, where problems (and news of problems) spread across the world in the blink of an eye, it is obvious that international organizations and groups of countries need to coordinate their actions to meet the challenge. That is why the Europeans were hoping their leaders, who met in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, would come up with some decision about how to curb prices and strengthen the EU’s institutions after the torpedo launched by the Irish «no» to the reform treaty. Instead of decisions, we got arguments, a general numbness and further delay. (The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization summit on food prices, a few weeks ago, similarly offered little comfort.) But the longer that problems remain unresolved the worse they will get. As a consequence, confidence in political leaders will continue to fall, with dangerous repercussions for social peace and democracy both in individual countries and entire regions.