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g8meeting
(07/14/08) -

A Summit of Goodbyes

Next years G-8 meeting could see new heads of government, depending on the political viability of certain incumbents.
Mario Canseco – The next G-8 summit will be held at the Sardinian town of La Maddalena. Silvio Berlusconi will much likely be the host next year, but some of the faces that were seen in Japan earlier this month might not make it to Italy.

Mario Canseco – The next G-8 summit will be held at the Sardinian town of La Maddalena. Silvio Berlusconi will much likely be the host next year, but some of the faces that were seen in Japan earlier this month might not make it to Italy.

United States president George W. Bush has not surpassed the 40 per cent mark in an approval rating survey since December 2006. In the last year of his presidency, the Republican politician does not matter anymore. The focus has turned to his possible successors, and Bush’s last public act before heading to Japan—a citizenship ceremony in Monticello—was interrupted by hecklers on several occasions.

This month’s host, Yasuo Fukuda, is facing a revolt that threatens to put an end to the storied dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Japanese prime minister’s cabinet has a particularly low approval rating. Voters are not only starting to flock to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), but some are demanding an early election. The LDP has clearly not recovered from the retirement of Junichiro Koizumi, and Japan stands on the verge of a radical shift.

A year into his tenure, British prime minister Gordon Brown has seen his party drop to unprecedented levels, and witnessed the rise of Conservative leader David Cameron as the preferred head of government for most voters in the country. Economic setbacks, coupled with an ill-timed decision to tamper with the tax code, have allowed the opposition to label Brown as a "has been". His majority is not in jeopardy at this stage, but some Labour party members are wondering—privately and publicly—if the time to launch a leadership challenge has arrived.

Aside from the retiring Bush, and the mandate-less Fukuda and Brown, things are not rosy for two other G-8 leaders when it comes to domestic policy. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy has seen his numbers drop since the start of his presidency. The reforms he touted during his campaign allowed him to win the run-off, but their pace has not pleased the electorate. Earlier this year, a survey suggested that, given another chance, the French would elect Ségolène Royal as their head of state.

Berlusconi is back as Italy’s prime minister, overseeing a government that brings together conservatives and far-rightists, and whose first policy since defeating a new centre-left party in the election dealt with harsher penalties for immigrants.

Still, Italy cannot currently make the case that it is a worthy member of the G-8. The country remains mired in bureaucracy, disorganization and endemic mistrust, epitomized by the lengthy garbage strike in Naples, but evident in simple facets of every day life. Conservative governments are supposed to foster a positive business climate, but Berlusconi has—twice before—failed to implement proper strategies to revitalize the economy. This time, he will have to also contend with rising oil prices as well.

Russia was represented for the first time by Dmitry Medvedev, although Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin is still regarded as the man who sets the guidelines of the country’s government. In his first public appearance as prime minister, Putin did not occupy the chair that was used by Mikhail Fradkow when he served under him, opting instead to place Medvedev where the former prime ministers had sat.

So far, Medvedev’s actions in Japan did not make him more appealing, or independent, in the eyes of the world. Russia’s recent veto of a United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution on Zimbabwe suggests that Medvedev either did not read, or chose to ignore, the tough-worded statement he endorsed when sharing a table with the other world leaders in Hokkaido.

The two remaining G-8 leaders, both conservatives, face similar challenges. Canada’s Stephen Harper is propped by the most effective "Grand Coalition" agreement seen outside of Germany. The hesitancy of the Liberal party to vote against the Tories in the House of Commons—a fact that could precipitate an early election that the opposition is unprepared for—has effectively allowed Harper to set the agenda without a hitch, even in the face of glaring hindrances, such as a dispute with the electoral watchdog and the resignation of his foreign minister.

Liberal leader Stéphane Dion is counting on a proposal to enact a carbon tax to boost his chances of vanquishing Harper, and avoid becoming the second Grit chief to fail to head the Canadian government. The proposal has seen lukewarm support from Canadians, but some misconceptions remain. In a time of economic uncertainty, and at a moment when Dion trails Harper in virtually every single leadership category, the so-called "Green Shift" is a calculated risk that has the potential to help the Liberals.

Germany’s Angela Merkel is the only politician who went to Japan with a firm grip on her government. She became chancellor after an election where voters expressed their disdain for the policies of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and as the coalition has progressed, her party has remained at the top while the SPD loses voters to both the Left Party (Linke) and the Greens (Grune). In 2009, Merkel might actually be in a position to form the government with a more akin coalition partner—the Free Democratic Party (FDP)—unless the SPD manages to implement a change at the helm and supplant the unpopular Kurt Beck.

The continuation of Harper and Merkel is closely tied to the success of their main opponents. Both Dion and Beck have had trouble connecting with the public. The Canadian grits are counting on Dion’s "Green Shift" to defeat Harper, but an election is not expected until late 2009. The SPD is thinking aloud about 2013, and the prospect of Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit as the candidate of hope. A quick turnaround before the 2009 ballot, under Beck, seems unattainable.