For politicians, it’s the end of business as usual

As Trump’s election showed, there is growing intolerance of the way the political class operates. Immunity and privilege can no longer be a given

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 2:52am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 2:52am

The election of Donald Trump as US president and Britain’s vote to leave the EU should have given politicians everywhere the message that times have changed. What was once accepted does not now necessarily apply. French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon and Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu have found that out to their detriment. Shaking off perceptions of corruption will not come easily in so altered an environment.

Fillon, a former prime minister who had been the front runner for April’s elections, has legally done nothing wrong – he paid his wife and two of his five children with public funds to help him with parliamentary work. In most countries, this is unlawful, but it has been a centuries-old tradition among elected leaders in France. Growing public displeasure with political privilege is changing views, although what has mired Fillon in scandal are reports that his wife did almost nothing during a 30-year period to claim a salary of about US$900,000. While he has denied wrongdoing and apologised for the payments, the hypocrisy cannot be ignored; his campaign centres on ridding politics of corruption.

The scandal has put in doubt Fillon’s election chances, giving a lift to challenger Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front.

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Grindeanu’s troubles are more immediate, though; an attempt by his month-old government to implement a decree making abuse of power subject to a jail term only if the amount involved exceeded US$48,000 sparked huge protests that have continued daily outside parliament for the past week. The legislation has since been scrapped, but the calls for the government to resign have not let up. Authorities still plan another decree for the release of about 2,500 prisoners and among them could be members of the prime minister’s Social Democratic Party in jail for corruption.

Grindeanu has pledged not to resign, just as Fillon plans to stay in the presidential race. But, as Trump’s election showed, there is growing intolerance of the way the political class operates. Immunity and privilege can no longer be a given.