Nations Go to Polls in 2018

Nations Go to Polls in 2018

Elections to look out for this year

In the year 2017, the French elected Emmanuel Macron as their president, while South Koreans elected Moon Jae-in to replace Park Geun-hye who was ousted in a corruption scandal. In the same year, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani won re-election with a much wider margin of support than his first term while Turkey voted to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s constitutional authority. In Britain, Theresa May gambled but lost her parliamentary majority whereas Japan’s Shinzo Abe came away with a resounding victory in the parliamentary elections and in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel led her party to a first-place finish. On the other hand, a disputed independence referendum in Catalonia triggered a constitutional crisis in Spain, and a similarly controversial independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan raised political tensions in Iraq. The Year 2018 will see equally important and consequential elections. 

If 2017 was the year of botched independence referendums, the 2018 will see strongmen (and no women) around the world seek re-election and some jaded old-timers stage unlikely comebacks. Here are some important elections to look out for in 2018:

1. Italy – March 04

Italians must love government; they have had sixty-five of them since Italy became a republic in 1945. The Italian parliament was dissolved on December 28, 2017, and a new election will be held on March 4, 2018. As Italian voters mull over government number sixty-six, polls show the 5 Star Movement is neck and neck with Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s center-left Democratic Party. Could a right-wing, Eurosceptic, populist party do surprisingly well, as has happened elsewhere in Europe recently? It’s possible. The ingredients are there. Italians are upset over high unemployment, large government debt, and the ongoing refugee crisis. The Five Star Movement casts itself as a populist party. As in the last election in 2013, the anti-establishment mood is likely to favour the Five-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, while the continuing migrant crisis is playing into the hands of the hard-right, anti-EU Northern League. All of which points to a highly unpredictable contest.

2. Russia – March 18

There will be no such uncertainty in Russia, where Vladimir Putin is bidding to extend his 18-year iron grip on power (including two stints as prime minister). Opposed only by token candidates, Putin is widely expected to win a fourth term in the March 18 poll – his only prominent opponent, Alexei Navalny, being barred from running due to an embezzlement conviction. Moreover, polls have shown that 80 percent of Russian people trust current President Vladimir Putin, who signed up as an independent candidate on December 27. Observers believe that Putin’s re-election is highly likely, with a stable governance foundation, high rate of public support and a weak opposition. The main challenge facing Putin is not the election, but figuring out how to lead the country to solve thorny domestic and diplomatic problems in the next six years. The opposition leader has called for a boycott of the vote, mindful that a low turnout would be seen as a setback for the president and embolden his critics at home and abroad.

3. Egypt – March 26-28

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in July 2013 after ousting his predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, in a military coup. Sisi was then elected president in May 2014 with roughly 96 percent of the vote – a suspiciously high turnout for a free-and-fair election. The Egyptian president’s term is up for renewal sometime between February and May, and el-Sisi has made no mystery of his plans to carry on. Odds are good that el-Sisi will enjoy continued electoral success, even though he has failed to deliver on his promises to jumpstart economic growth, has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, and has had Egyptians living under a state of emergency since April 2016. It is still not clear who will be allowed to run against him. When Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister, announced his candidacy from the United Arab Emirates, he was promptly expelled to Cairo, where he soon said he was pulling out of the contest. In December 2017, army colonel Ahmed Konsowa was sentenced to six years in prison for violating military rules after he announced his intention to challenge el-Sisi. Another candidate, prominent rights activist Khaled Ali, has also thrown his hat in the ring. Hanging over his bid, however, is a September conviction for allegedly making an obscene hand gesture the day he won a court case against the government’s decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

4. Hungary – April 08

Hungary will hold its parliamentary election in April. Like Putin’s Russia, it has become something of a pariah state to many western Europeans alarmed by its government’s increasingly illiberal shift. Over the past seven years Hungary has become an “illiberal democracy” under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz Party. Orbán does not value an independent judiciary, the free press, or fair election laws; he has had his disdain for these bedrock democratic principles enshrined in Hungary’s constitution. As a result, journalists and diplomats alike have taken to calling him a “dictator”. Orban dismisses his critics out of hand. He can do so because Fidesz dominates Hungarian politics; it currently holds roughly two-thirds of the seats in the Hungarian parliament. Polls also suggest the nationalist, anti-migrant leader, who has been in power since 2010, is a shoe-in for a third term in office.

5. Cuba – April 19

On April 19, 2018, Cuba’s national legislators will vote for the country’s next president and successor to 86-year-old Raul Castro, who officially came to power in 2008 after his brother Fidel Castro retired for health reasons. A shift of power from an old generation to a young generation is set to take place on the island in 2018.

6. Lebanon – May 06

Lebanon has become a new theatre of conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The former patronizes the incumbent Saad Hariri government whereas the latter backs Hezbollah. Thus, this election has got huge significance in the Middle East context. Lebanon hasn’t held a parliamentary election since 2009, for want of consensus on a new electoral law. The May 06 vote will inaugurate a system of proportional representation whose proponents say it will help renew the country’s factional political class and better represent its multi-confessional society. While the country’s delicate balance of power is unlikely to shift much, a smooth election would in itself be a considerable achievement.

7. Mexico – July 01

Mexico is expected to hold its presidential election on July 01. The incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto is constitutionally barred from running for re-election. The-frontrunner in this election is the former mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manual Lopez Obrador who finished second in the last two presidential elections, and lost the controversial 2006 election by less than a percentage point. Mexico figured prominently in the 2016 US presidential campaign, thanks to Donald Trump. Now, the United States will figure prominently in Mexico’s presidential election because as the leader of the left-wing National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), he vows to fight Trump’s “poisonous, hateful, xenophobic” policy toward Mexico. But like Trump, he also is a NAFTA critic, though MORENA’s platform talks about improving the trade deal rather than ditching it. Another contender is Margarita Zavala, the wife of former President Felipe Calderon, the man who beat AMLO back in 2006. Sometimes called the “Mexican Hillary,” Zavala recently split with her husband’s party, the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN), to run on her own. The PAN’s Ricardo Anaya is trying to lead a “broad coalition” with the left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party. Meanwhile, Peña’s Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will likely nominate José Antonio Meade, a former finance minister. With four major candidates running in a first-past-the-post race, Mexico’s next president could move into Los Pinos with the support of a third or less of the Mexican electorate.

8. Cambodia – July 29

On July 29, Cambodia will hold its parliamentary election, and the Cambodian People’s Party, led by Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen, is expected to continue its victory. A former Khmer Rouge commander, Hun Sen has been in power since 1985 and he shows no interest in letting anyone take his place. The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s largest opposition group, had been making serious gains, winning 44 percent of the vote in June’s commune election. However, on November 16, the country’s Supreme Court dissolved the Party after its leader Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept. 03 and was charged with treason for conspiring with a foreign power to attempt to overthrow the government. The election will, thus, serve as a testing ground for public opinion, and reflect domestic attitude on Western political interference.

9. Pakistan – within 90 days of June

After the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court for improper financial dealings that came to light with the release of the Panama Papers, the political battlefield in Pakistan is wide open. Before the scandal broke, Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), looked to be well positioned for the 2018 election. Now, however, the party’s future is unclear. The main opposition party is Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. PTI looks to be in a stronger position than it was a year ago, but that might not be saying much. The Pakistan People’s Party, the country’s oldest democratic political party, could also be a factor. Many Pakistanis would take the point even further, arguing that whichever party has the blessing of the army and the United States will win the election. However accurate that perception is, a lot is at stake in the election. Moreover, a report published in The Economist has predicted that Pakistan PML-N is headed for another five-year term after the 2018 general elections.

10. Brazil – October 07

On October 07, 2018, presidential election will take place in Brazil. The major South American country has gone through political turbulence in recent years, with a continuous economic downturn. Brazil could be another Latin American country leaning heavily to the left as the Workers’ Party is eyeing a spectacular return to power just two years after former president Dilma Rousseff’s dramatic removal. The party’s comeback champion is – once again – Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who ran Brazil from 2003 to 2011. Caught up in a sprawling corruption scandal that has rattled Brazilian politics, Lula was sentenced to prison in July for accepting bribes. But he remains free as appeals courts sort out whether he can run, and polls currently give him a large lead ahead of the October election. However, if he loses his appeal, he will be headed for the penitentiary and not the presidency. Candidates who might be competitive if Lula departs the race include Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right congressman, known for his homophobic and sexist outbursts, who has called himself a “threat to the stubbornly corrupt.” Another possibility is Marina Silva, who many thought might win the presidency back in 2014. Whoever does win will inherit a political inbox full of problems and a public deeply cynical about what its politicians are doing.

11. United States – November 06

On November 06, 2018, the United States will hold mid-term congressional election, the result of which could be significant for President Donald Trump and his Republican Party, commonly known as the GOP. Mid-term elections generally don’t go well for the president’s party in the United States. Over the past seven decades, the president’s party has, on average, lost twenty-five House seats in the mid-terms. Sometimes the results are much worse than that. President Obama saw House Democrats lost sixty-three seats in the 2010 mid-terms. Does this mean that 2018 will be a terrible year for Republicans? Not quite. True, President Trump’s public approval rating is south of 40 percent, the GOP has recorded few major legislative victories despite controlling both the White House and the Congress, and voters tell pollsters that they prefer a generic Democratic candidate over a Republican one by the widest margin in over a decade. But the gerrymandering of House districts means that the Democratic candidates could win many more votes than Republicans and still end up with f ewer seats. As for the Senate, Democrats have to defend twenty-three of the thirty-three seats at stake in 2018. To make matters worse for Democrats, they are defending ten seats in states that Trump won in 2016; only one Republican senator hails from a state that Hillary Clinton won. Events could help, or hurt, either party. What remains true is that the dynamics in Washington would shift dramatically if Democrats take back either house of the Congress.

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