"Subscriber" Essay: 2019 Elections Around the World

Most Saturdays (sometimes I need a break) I step away from the world news updates and write an essay on a topic requested by one of my subscribers. The topic can be pretty much anything, as long as I feel like I’m reasonably qualified to write about it. This week, since I haven’t put out a call for essay topics, I’ve picked the topic. As with everything else I’m posting this week this one will be unlocked, but to read future essays, and request your own, you’ll need to subscribe! Please subscribe today to take advantage of my 20 percent off sale, active through the end of the month:

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My deeply subjective sense is that there are a lot of elections happening this year. I figured maybe it would be a good idea to track some of the (in my opinion) more important of them, including a few that have already happened.

JANUARY

January 21 (and February 6): Bangsamoro Autonomy referendum, Philippines

A huge majority (nearly 89 percent) in several parts of the Mindanao region voted to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which had passed parliament last summer. The result is the formation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which will come into full effect in 2022 with the formation of a new government that is largely autonomous from Manila and controls the majority Muslim Bangsamoro region:

The idea is to put an end to the Muslim insurgency that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been conducting since the 1970s. Former rebel leaders have already assumed roles in the transitional government that will manage the region until elections in 2022. With ISIS’s presence growing in the southern Philippines, however, the establishment of this autonomous region isn’t going to completely eliminate violence on Mindanao and its surrounding islands.

FEBRUARY

February 3: Presidential election, El Salvador

Nayib Bukele of the center-right Grand Alliance for National Unity won, which is noteworthy if for no other reason than he’s the first Salvadoran president not to come from one of the country’s two largest parties (ARENA and the FMLN) in 30 years.

February 23: General election, Nigeria

President Muhammadu Buhari and his All People’s Congress retained the presidency and both houses of parliament fairly handily.

February 24: Constitutional referendum, Cuba

By a 91 percent majority (make of that what you will), Cuban voters approved a new constitution that, among other things, legalizes private property and foreign investment, brings back the post of prime minister, and sets both age and term limits on the presidency.

February 24: Presidential election, Senegal

Incumbent Macky Sall easily won reelection.

MARCH

March 24: Presidential election, Comoros

Incumbent Azali Assoumani was supposed to be term limited, but a 2018 constitutional referendum lifted term limits and ended the practice of rotating the Comorian presidency among the country’s three islands. Comoros isn’t exactly a world power, but the referendum and Assoumani’s reelection unsurprisingly has caused considerable bad blood, especially on the island of Anjouan, Comoros’s second-largest island, which now may never wrest the presidency from Grand Comore again. There were uprisings on Anjouan after the referendum last year and there’s already been one since the election this year.

March 24: General election, Thailand

In the first election since Thailand’s 2014 military coup, anti-junta parties technically “won,” but because the country’s new “civilian” political system has been designed to give the military substantial control over the political process, it’s likely that the junta will remain in power but now with the veneer of democratic legitimacy.

March 31: Local elections, Turkey

I wouldn’t have included this—local elections aren’t really our thing here—but Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party lost its long-time holds on the mayoralties of Ankara and (probably) Istanbul. The losses were a symbolic blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who nationalized the election and suffered for Turkey’s weak economy, though they do little to weaken Erdoğan’s stranglehold on power.

March 31 (and April 21): Presidential election, Ukraine

Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, who literally plays a Ukrainian president on TV, easily won the first round of Ukraine’s actual presidential election, taking around 30 percent against incumbent Petro Poroshenko’s roughly 16 percent. Zelensky is the prohibitive favorite to win the April 21 runoff against the deeply unpopular Poroshenko.

APRIL

April 9: Parliamentary election, Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has his first serious political challenge in some time in the form of Blue and White party boss and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz. Some recent polling suggests that Blue and White will win more seats than Netanyahu’s Likud party, but Netanyahu’s right wing coalition will collectively win somewhere between 63 and 66 seats, which for them is a comfortable majority in the 120 seat Knesset. So Netanyahu will likely remain in office, unless his legal troubles really catch up with him.

Yeah, I know

April 11 (to May 19): Parliamentary election, India

Polling has suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling National Democratic Alliance coalition might have a bit of a fight on its hands to retain its majority. A weakened Indian economy is the big hurdle for Modi. The late February military clash with Pakistan bolstered Modi’s numbers considerably, but there’s been some evidence in very recent polling that his boost might be wavering a bit. I’d expect Modi to eke out a win but it’s not a lock.

April 17: General election, Indonesia

Any general election in a country as big as Indonesia is important, but polling suggests this one is likely to be uneventful. Incumbent President Joko Widodo has a substantial lead over challenger Prabowo Subianto, and Joko’s governing coalition in parliament will most likely remain intact.

April 18: Presidential election, Algeria

This one isn’t happening anymore. But I figured we should mention it anyway, since it was this election, and the possibility that Abdelaziz Bouteflika might run for a fifth term even though he’s been a near vegetable since his 2013 stroke, that spurred hundreds of thousands of Algerians to protest for political change. Bouteflika resigned under that pressure earlier this week, starting a 90 day clock for an election.

April 28: General election, Spain

Polling indicates that the ruling Socialist Party will win the election but will be short of a majority and will have to cobble together support among several smaller parties in order to retain control of the government. Of greater alarm is that Spain’s far-right Vox Party looks certain to enter parliament, the first far-right party to do so since Francisco Franco kicked the bucket in 1975.

MAY

May 8: General election, South Africa

It would be the political upset of the century (so far) if the African National Congress and incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t retain control of both the presidency and the National Assembly.

May 18 or before (and November 2 or before): Federal election, Australia

By contrast, head to head polling indicates that Australia’s ruling, center-right Liberal-National coalition government is about to be toppled by the Labor party. Labor has been in the opposition since losing the 2013 election.

May 23-26: Parliamentary elections, Europe

The European parliament doesn’t really have much power and its internal coalition politics are ridiculously unwieldy, so the outcome here isn’t that big a deal. The center-right coalition that has the majority now should retain it. What’s noteworthy here is that, because Brexit has become such a massive dumpster fire, the United Kingdom may find itself having to hold elections for a parliament it’s planning to leave as soon as it can figure out how to get out the door. The European parliament can’t do anything unless all member states have a legal delegation, and until the UK finally leaves it is obliged to participate in the parliamentary process. The Brexiteers never intended things to drag on to the point where this would be an issue, but here we are.

May 26: Federal election, Belgium

Polling has consistently shown the Belgium’s ruling coalition losing its majority, and that was before the Flemish N-VA party quit the coalition in December. Now polling shows the coalition getting hammered. But most of the intrigue surrounding Belgian elections happens after the votes are counted, when the country’s approximately 7.8 million political parties negotiate with one another to try to form a majority coalition. So at this point the ultimate outcome of the vote is unclear.

JUNE

June 16: General election, Guatemala

Polling suggests that the presidential side of this election is a three-way battle between former first lady Sandra Torres of the center-left National Unity of Hope party, Zury Ríos of the conservative Valor party, and former attorney general Thelma Aldana of the centrist Semilla party.

June 17 or before: General election, Denmark

Polling has Denmark’s Social Democrats comfortably ahead but short of a majority. If it wins it would appear the party plans to form a minority government, but even if it doesn’t form a coalition it will need to make some concessions to other left/center-left parties in order to secure their support.

JULY

July 20: Presidential election, Afghanistan

This could very well wind up being a rematch between President Ashraf Ghani and “Chief Executive” Abdullah Abdullah, whose 2014 contest was so close and so bitter that the United States had to step in and broker a settlement that created the make-work “chief executive” job as an incentive for Abdullah to drop his challenge to Ghani’s apparent victory. That’s assuming the election will happen at all. Ghani is facing some pressure to cancel the election and dissolve his government in favor of a transitional arrangement that could handle peace negotiations with the Taliban. The Taliban, of course, refuses to recognize or meet with Ghani and his government.

AUGUST

Nothing, as far as I can tell. Who wants to vote in August, anyway?

SEPTEMBER

Nothing but a few local elections.

OCTOBER

October: Parliamentary election, United Arab Emirates

Just kidding. This is not an important election.

October 6: Parliamentary election, Tunisia

This election will be a test for Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who has broken with President Beji Caid Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party and will run at the head of a new party, Tahya Tounes. Chahed is an austerity guy and as such he’s not all that popular these days, so he may be looking at a very bad day here.

October 20: General election, Bolivia

Incumbent President Evo Morales may eke out a win against former President Carlos Mesa, but polling indicates it will be close.

October 21 or before: Federal election, Canada

Polling is noisy here but the most recent surveys seem to all show the opposition Conservative Party moving into a slim lead. The corruption scandal hanging over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau probably isn’t helping his poll numbers.

October 27 (presidential runoff on November 24): General election, Argentina

Polling in the presidential race has former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and incumbent Mauricio Macri getting into the runoff on November 24. Macri and his austerity are pretty unpopular at this point, but so is Kirchner, so this would probably be the best outcome for Macri in terms of maximizing the chances of holding on to his job. Hypothetical Kirchner-Macri runoff polling is all over the map, and some indicate a large number of undecideds still out there.

October 27: Parliamentary election, Ukraine

Polling indicates that Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, formed last March, could emerge as the largest single party in the Ukrainian parliament, with the center-right Fatherland party close behind. Ukrainian elections also see most of their action after the voting when the coalition talks start, and since Servant of the People is new and its politics haven’t entirely solidified yet it will throw an interesting complication into the mix. Ukrainian politics are largely right-wing and seem driven by personality almost as much as policy—for example, ideologically Fatherland and Petro Poroshenko’s Solidarity party should probably be natural allies (they’re coalition partners now, in fact)—but because Poroshenko and Fatherland party leader Yulia Tymoshenko hate each other it’s not certain they’ll keep working together.

NOVEMBER

November or before: Parliamentary election, Poland

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) will likely remain the largest party in parliament, but polling has been all over the place in terms of seat projections and so it’s unclear whether PiS will retain its parliamentary majority. Most recent polls project a hung parliament, which means lots of fun coalition talks and potentially a snap election. Why vote once when you can vote twice?

November 10 (and November 24): Presidential election, Tunisia

Incumbent Beji Caid Essebsi suggested just this weekend that he’d rather not run for reelection and, I mean, the guy is 92 so yeah. Note that he hasn’t said he won’t run, just that he doesn’t want to run. Obviously it’s difficult to say much about this race without knowing whether he’ll be in it.

DECEMBER

December or before: Presidential election, Romania

Only incumbent Klaus Iohannis is known (or at least pretty certain) to be running. Romania’s other major parties haven’t selected their candidates yet. So it’s too soon to say much here. Still, Iohannis appears to have commanding first round polling leads against all his potential opponents.

December 9: Presidential election, Sri Lanka

Other than incumbent Maithripala Sirisena no other candidates have even declared here, so it’s far too early to say what’s going to happen. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has expressed interest, and after Sirisena’s attempt to oust Wickremesinghe last year went over like a lead balloon, that could be a very interesting matchup.

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