Next questions / Global
The interview series 2013/4
From Chile to the Philippines, Monocle meets five political heavyweights as they look back over 2013 and forwards to the various challenges of the year ahead.
President of Chile
As Sebastián Piñera approaches the end of his term as Chile’s president, he reflects on his proudest achievements, his belief that patience and compromise are crucial in politics, and looks forward to a life of adventure.
In the last months of a term marked by social conflict and low approval ratings, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera is seeking to solidify his legacy.
Days after returning to South America from an Apec summit in Indonesia, Piñera is on his presidential 737, landing in the Atacama Desert to open a museum commemorating the rescue of 33 miners in 2010. It’s a clever pairing. The public has always rated Piñera highest for his foreign policy, while the miner rescue was his moment of glory, surging to a broad majority approval nationwide.
Those opinion poll ratings proved shortlived. Widespread protests over education have affected his popularity, as have a range of relatively superficial matters, such as Piñera’s involvement in the firing of a popular football coach and his supposed stinginess with the little one-time payments – or bonuses – often used to cement support in the public sector.
The 63-year-old former professor and entrepreneur argues that economic growth exceeding 5 per cent a year, historically low unemployment and ever-fatter cash reserves from a long boom in copper prices should have grabbed more attention. Certainly more than the government’s stumbles in rebuilding after an earthquake, ongoing fights over environmental protection and public education and a persistent divide between rich and poor.
Piñera, who constitutionally can’t run for immediate re-election, is already looking to the future. After the museum opening, his motorcade of green police pickup trucks, rented tourist vans and Toyota suvs drives on through the desert to the next event. After stopping for a cigarette and taking in the Mars-like surroundings, Piñera sits down with monocle in the back of his suv to look back on his time in office.
Monocle: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as president?
Sebastián Piñera: You learn to be more humble, more patient. You realise that you cannot get everything done immediately. That you have to negotiate and compromise. Even if you’re right, you have to spend a lot of time convincing people, arguing and trying to create majority support for your measures. And that’s something you don’t do in the private sector.
M: What would you do differently if you could do this term again?
SP: As part of the economic growth and economic success, you have to face new demands on the part of the people. When they move from poverty to middle class, they don’t stop there. They immediately start asking for better education, better health, better cities, and maybe we didn’t realise that. People thought Chile had already become a developed country. We are on our way to becoming a developed country. I would say that expectations and demands of the people have been extremely high. We should have controlled that better.
M: What’s your single proudest achievement as president?
SP: It’s hard to pick only one but I would say in the middle of the world living in a huge crisis, we have been able to recover our leadership and our dynamism. Today Chile is among the fastest-growing countries in the world. We have been able to achieve full employment, at the same time increasing wages and salaries and reducing poverty and taking very deep structural reform in the educational and health areas.
On top of that we have been able to reconstruct our country which was devastated by a huge earthquake and tsunami 11 days before we took office. So those, I would say, are our main accomplishments.
M: What level of sacrifice do you think the wealthy can make in Chile?
SP: More than what we have today. I am convinced that the real cause of poverty and extreme inequality is basically two [things]: lack of quality of education for everybody and lack of opportunities for good employment for everybody. That is why we have put our main efforts in those two areas.
The poor have to do their part too and not only rely on government policies. On top of that, of course, the people who have had better opportunities in life have to be more generous in terms of sharing those opportunities with other people who don’t have the same opportunities.
M: What are the biggest challenges for whomever takes office in March?
SP: We still have to travel a long way to become a real developed country. We need to keep growing at 6 per cent a year if we want to achieve that goal before the end of this decade. We have to keep creating jobs. To keep the leadership and the dynamism of the Chilean economy is not easy. It’s easy to lose that capacity and we have lost it in the past many times. Another challenge is how to make development compatible with protection of the environment.
M: What’s the biggest national risk in Chile today?
SP: We might lose our will. I worry that people might start thinking they have a right to everything and start asking the government for everything. Freedom comes with responsibilities. If you teach everyone that they deserve everything for free, we won’t make it.
M: Now that you’re about to leave office, what’s the next step?
SP: I don’t know yet. I know I will work very intensively until March 2014. What will happen then we don’t know. And I’m happy not knowing, because that kind of uncertainty is also a source of freedom. I like adventure: I am a parachutist, I parasail, I’m a helicopter pilot and a diver. So I would like go back to the world of nature and adventure.
Prime minister of Sweden
Faced with the muddle of international politics and global economic woes, Sweden’s prime minister explains why he is focused on welcoming migrants and closing the inequality gap.
On the banks of Lake Mälaren in the heart of Stockholm’s Old Town, Sweden’s prime minister is sitting on a park bench watching the world go by. His security presence is discreet – a sole agent nearby, another 50 metres away. Fredrik Reinfeldt is a relaxed, low-key prime minister of a relaxed, low-key country.
After serving for almost two terms he may not be prime minister for much longer. Elections are due in September 2014 and Reinfeldt is behind in the polls. In many ways it’s a miracle he’s lasted this long. Before the centre-right Reinfeldt came to office in 2006 the Social Democrats had held the prime minister’s post for 60 of the previous 70 years.
Reinfeldt may be on the centre-right but remember, this is Sweden. In the UK he would be a decent New Labour minister, albeit one who wouldn’t reach the top thanks to his too-liberal views on immigration. In the US, forget it – he’s a dangerous leftie who would struggle to become a congressman in California. When he sits down to talk to monocle, he holds forth on migration, Europe and the economy.
Monocle: Is Sweden’s constant flow of migrants a good thing for the country?
Fredrik Reinfeldt: Yes, I believe that’s Swedish history. Apart from the late 19th century, when more than a million actually left Sweden for the US, Sweden has always been a country that is open to others and they’ve come for many generations and from many different parts of the world. They are mostly integrated and make our welfare ambitions possible.
A lot of them, especially the young people coming from Afghanistan, have no or very low history of education. That creates a challenge for us to try and get them to learn a new language, fill in what they have missed and at the same time come into the labour market.
M: You’ve accepted large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Why is it important? Is it a moral issue?
FR: A richer part of the world should take its responsibility for poorer parts of the world. It is a moral thing. If you have a history in which people actually left because they were poor, because they had no future and were able to find a new future in another country, we should also make this possible in our generation for people who find themselves in the same kind of distress.
But it’s also for demographical and economical reasons. Sweden has an ageing population – my experts tell me that half of the children born in Sweden today will live to be 100 years old. And still many people would like to stop working at 65. So how do you create a pension system, welfare system that is sustainable? Since we do not have enough children born in this country, the answer must be to stand open for migrants to come into our society. So it is also for good economical reasons that we should stand open.
M: There were riots in Stockholm in May. Did it surprise you?
FR: For a long time we’ve seen the tensions between some suburbs with a high degree of immigrants. It’s very important to seek them out, to punish those who use a lot of violence. But also to say that this is a challenge, to give them the knowledge, to give them the hope for the future that they can reintegrate into society and to believe that they can get a job.
M: Do you think European leaders have made mistakes in the past few years?
FR: Political leaders should always be humble to say mistakes have been made. But I think the expectations are wrong. We can’t control the economy, interest rates and everything that happens in a country. Maybe we have never been able to do that but it’s to a lesser extent today.
So we should be clear with the expectations. We can only do so much. It’s also related to what happens in other parts of the world. Half our economy is exports – if there is a downfall in demand in Norway, Germany, the UK or Denmark, this will affect Sweden without us being able to do that much.
M: A lot of the austerity measures that have been imposed in southern Europe have had a detrimental effect.
FR: Well, if you are highly indebted and have huge deficits and are not able to refinance yourself through open markets, then you are dependent on others. And then others must ask themselves: should we use taxes paid in another country – where the taxpayers think they want hospital care and welfare out of these resources – to someone else, to cover the losses we have in other countries?
M: That is a political argument rather than an economic argument.
FR: Absolutely, but at the end of the day if you are not able to refinance yourself, then you need someone else to.
M: How would you define your politics?
FR: For Sweden it’s a clear will among the people to have high tax-paid welfare ambitions. What we have done is combine that with becoming a competitive economy, with a ‘put work first’ principle. So the combination of higher growth, more job-creating policies, together with the ambition to have widespread tax-paid welfare solutions, is the way forward.
For me, it is very clear that we would never accept that a large portion of our population should not have access to hospital care. We don’t want big inequalities because we think that having an inclusive society is about giving resources and possibilities to everyone.
But I believe that is centre-right thinking, that’s the end of believing in freedom. Freedom in itself is a value but it must also mean each individual has the ability to rise and find their way to freedom. And if you have too many inequalities you will find large parts of the population in fact do not have the chances like everyone else.
Foreign minister of Australia
Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop is the only female member of the new cabinet but she insists that neither this, nor the government’s tough stance on immigration, means the country has an image problem.
Boxes of books and framed certificates cover the floor of Julie Bishop’s office. The Australian politician is a woman on the move. For the past 15 years, her electorate HQ has been a converted restaurant in Perth’s affluent west. But she recently decided to relocate much of her operation to a more central workspace with security fitting of her new title: Australia’s first female foreign minister.
The road to Bishop’s appointment and subsequent office upgrade has been long. Over the past six years, she has been deputy to three consecutive opposition leaders – no mean feat in Australia’s infamously backstabbing political scene. When the right-leaning Liberals won September’s election, the former lawyer emerged as the highest-ranking woman in the party’s history.
Perhaps to avoid the pitfalls of former prime minister Julia Gillard, who was often lambasted for “playing the gender card”, Bishop downplays the significance of the accolade. “There are many talented women in the Liberal party,” she says. “So I expect there will be many more women who take leadership roles in the Liberal party over time.”
Gender equality has been a sticking point throughout prime minister Tony Abbott’s career. Before being elected, the international community knew him best as the butt of a speech by Julia Gillard in which she argued that “if [Mr Abbott] wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia... he needs a mirror”. Bishop claims the incident no longer impacts how Mr Abbott is perceived abroad. “There was no validity to her case against him,” she says. “It didn’t reflect the character, personality or attitudes of Prime Minister Abbott.”
Despite this, the prime minister has continued to take criticism for his decision to make Bishop the sole female member of his 19-strong cabinet. When asked whether it concerned her that the Iranian government cabinet has more women than Australia’s, Bishop bristles. “Are you suggesting that the Iranian government is a model government compared to the Australian government? We don’t want to put women into cabinet to be tokens. We put women there because they have earned the right to be there.”
Few could argue there’s anything token about Bishop’s appointment to the cabinet. In her new role, she has become the face of a new foreign-policy outlook that is, in the words of the government, “more Jakarta, less Geneva”. This means it’s not just her old office getting a cleanout. Along with an increase in foreign service spending, Bishop has advocated for a much-needed update of Australia’s diplomatic footprint. “Many of our missions were established in the wake of the Second World War and I believe it is time to ensure our representation reflects our contemporary nation interests,” she says. “Australia’s standing in the world is at its highest when our influence in our region is at its strongest.”
Outside of embassies, Bishop is also keen to utilise Australia’s soft power potential. She has already announced au$100m (€70m) for a scheme that allows Australians to study throughout the Asia Pacific. Using the diplomatic power of sport is also high on her list. “India uses cricket as a way to build bridges with other countries and I think Australia can do more in the Pacific with that regard,” she says.
Although she grew up on a fruit orchard in the Adelaide hills, Bishop’s ties to Western Australia make her well suited to carrying out an Asia-focused foreign policy.
“Western Australian businesspeople have been travelling to Asia for decades, selling our resources into these major markets,” she says. Foremost among the prominent entrepreneurs in her electorate is Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, who in 2011 flew the then deputy leader of the Liberal party and two coalition officials to a Hyderabad wedding in her private jet. Bishop has said she used the trip to network with Indian business and political leaders.
Since coming to power, Bishop has made a point of travelling on the cheap. She recently asked staff not to book her on first-class international flights, even for a trip to New York to chair a meeting of the UN Security Council.
Initially sceptical of the former government’s campaign to gain a temporary seat on the council, Bishop ultimately used Australia’s presidency in September to facilitate the UN’s first resolution on small arms. Also on the trip’s agenda were talks with the Indonesian foreign minister about the issue of people smuggling in Southeast Asia, arguably Bishop’s greatest challenge.
Indonesian politicians have described some of the Liberals’ plans to “stop the boats” as “offensive” and “illegal”. But Bishop insists the relationship between Indonesia and Australia is strong.
“We will have a ‘no surprises’ policy and I think that came as a relief to them,” she says. “In the past there has been erratic policy-making decisions that had not been conveyed in advance to Indonesia.”
As for criticism about her government using the term “illegal arrivals” to describe asylum seekers, a label Australia’s national broadcaster has banned its journalists from using, Bishop doesn’t see the problem. “It is terminology that the UN uses and anybody who arrives without a passport and visa, coming via the people-smuggling trade is entering illegally,” she says.
While Australia’s prolonged debate about securing its borders continues to be one of the few Antipodean stories that cuts through to international media, Bishop denies the country’s immigration policy has created an image problem.
“We have one of the most generous humanitarian and refugee intakes per capita in the world. When such a significant number of Australians are born overseas or have parents born overseas, it’s not correct to say we have a harsh immigration system,” she says. “Our country is an immigrant country and we’re very proud of that.”
Presidential candidate, Ukraine
From the boxing ring to parliament, Vitali Klitschko has not followed a conventional career path. Ukraine’s opposition politician tells us why he believes you must fight for a better future.
Vitali Klitschko was not always a politician in a suit. His career as a professional boxer in Germany and beyond earned him the nickname Dr Ironfist (he holds a PhD). Together, he and his younger brother Wladimir – also a top boxer – made their name into a successful brand. Today the wbc heavyweight champion is a leading figure in Ukraine’s opposition and a probable presidential candidate.
Klitschko, who’s now 42, ran for mayor twice, both times unsuccessfully, and was elected to Kiev city council in 2006. In October 2012, his party udar made it into parliament, coming third with 40 seats. As an MP his two big themes have been the fight against corruption and bringing “European living standards” to Ukraine.
That Western outlook is at the heart of Ukraine’s most important political and cultural debate – does it see its future as part of Europe or linked to Russia? An Association Agreement with the EU is under discussion, while Russia wants to see Ukraine in its Customs Union.
Ukraine is a far cry from authoritarian Belarus or Vladimir Putin’s Russia but democracy under president Viktor Yanukovych is nowhere near perfect. The glow from 2004’s Orange Revolution has long since dimmed. Relations with Brussels soured over the imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in what many see as a case of selective justice.
Will the 2015 presidential election bring any change? Klitschko is already among the favourites. But in the unpredictable business of Ukrainian politics, many things could change before the election takes place. monocle met Klitschko in Kiev, where he told us about his ambitions for Ukraine.
Monocle: Did the Orange Revolution bring any lasting results?
Vitali Klitschko: It had a good and a bad side. People understood that if they come together they can change a lot. But it left people disappointed because many politicians who promised change did not keep their word.
M: Former president Viktor Yushchenko has lost public support and ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko is in jail. What went wrong?
VK: They both made the biggest mistake: they started fighting each other. And the result – Yanukovych is president.
M: Why did you get involved in politics?
VK: I remember the day Ukraine became independent. I was 20, now I am over 40. It was like one second – time goes so fast. If we wait, the next 20 years will go by. We have a choice to wait or to fight for the better future of our country. I know better than anyone: no fight, no win.
M: In boxing you are fighting on your own but politics requires a team. Is your party, UDAR, a one-man show?
VK: In sport you only see the fighter, but it’s teamwork. Without a good team you will never be the best. In boxing you have to work with the best coach, the best lawyer, the best manager, the best doctor. Exactly the same principle applies in politics.
M: What lessons do your years in Germany offer for Ukraine?
VK: It’s very important to know where we’re going. If we can apply something from the German model of development in Ukraine, it will be excellent. We have to take the best from the experience of other countries, suitable for Ukraine.
M: You have spoken out against corruption in Ukraine.
VK: Corruption is Ukraine’s main enemy; we must destroy it. It’s really painful to hear that Ukraine is the most corrupt country in Europe.
M: You are a leading supporter of closer relations between Ukraine and the EU.
VK: President Yanukovych said recently that “we live between two monsters” – Russia and Europe. He looks left and right and, for him, they are both bad. But I am certain that the European model is the right one for Ukraine.
M: How can Ukraine’s establishment be convinced?
VK: They want to freeze the situation in Ukraine because today’s system is perfect for making their money. But it is not appropriate for Ukrainian citizens.
M: What would you say to Russia?
VK: We would still be good friends. We have to develop good relations with our neighbours, but based on national interest and equal partnership.
M: What sort of president does Ukraine need?
VK: It’s very important to have the people’s support. That is why I am touring Ukraine, presenting my programme. Every investor has to understand his investments are protected in our country.
M: Are you worried the authorities might try to stop you from running somehow?
VK: Of course; I am an enemy. Ukrainian politics is like a fight with no rules. They are trying everything to take me out of the presidential election. I am the biggest danger for the people in power right now.
M: What is the biggest challenge Ukraine will face in 2014?
VK: Right now, we need to sign the EU Association Agreement; that is the start of a long process that we will try and complete as quickly as possible.
M: How would you like to be remembered?
VK: As President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I have a vision. I know what European living standards mean and I am sure we can achieve them quickly. After all, Ukraine is Europe.
Benigno Aquino III
President of the Philippines
Being a member of the Aquino family all but guarantees a place in Filipinos’ hearts. Still, the head of state has been prepared to shun popular acclaim in favour of pushing through some controversial policies.
Benigno Aquino III likes to tell a story to make his point. Sat in an armchair underneath the seal of the president, the Filipino head of state recounts tales involving taxi drivers and school timetables as he tries to hammer home an understanding of his bigger picture.
“At the end of the day I believe I am responsible for everything,” says Aquino (or Noynoy as he’s more affectionately known in the Philippines). It is a role for which he has been preparing for some time: he’s sat in both Congress and the Senate and represents the fourth generation of his family to serve in the Filipino government.
The Philippines is a country rife with political dynasties but the Aquino family lays claim to being the most popular. The assassination of Benigno’s exiled father, former senator Benigno S Aquino Jr, sparked the People Power Revolution almost 30 years ago. That led to the overthrow of the 20-year Marcos regime and the election of Corazon Aquino: the current president’s mother. She was Asia’s first female president and many in the Philippines credit her with bringing democracy back to Manila’s riverside Malacañang Palace.
Aquino is halfway through his six-year term. The constitution prevents him from standing for re-election but he’s happy with that: “It stops me from having to think about the next direction or consider what all the pollsters think.” Free of securing approval, Aquino has used his presidency to tackle some controversial issues head on, confronting the powerful Catholic Church by allowing access to contraception and leading a high-profile crackdown on corruption.
Yet in a country as large and sprawling as the Philippines it can take a while to turn policy into reality. While growth is impressive, Aquino is “very concerned about the slight changes in unemployment and underemployment. We’re being very proactive in terms of inclusive growth”. That, he says, means “massive investment in education and health”.
Aquino would like his country to play a larger role in the region but accepts “there are still quite a lot of problems within our borders”. At a mid-point of his presidency, Aquino is in a rare position. Having assumed a role that many saw as predestined, he’s gone against some of the institutions and societal norms that Filipino society is built upon. With fewer than three years left in office, he trusts in the power of public opinion to secure the future of what he’s put in place.
“There was a point in time when my predecessor convinced people that there was no point in going to the streets,” says Aquino. “Today the apathetic citizenry are making their numbers felt again. There’s been a transformation; people feel like they can make a difference and a change. The test for whoever succeeds me will be to convince 70 per cent of the populous that they will continue what has already been done.”