Elections are due in 25 countries this year, and by the time Canadians go to the polls in October, the patterns of the global political kaleidoscope will probably have changed substantially.
Many of those elections are likely to be intensely significant to their voters, but will make little mark on the global stage. May’s elections in the central North African country of Chad, or December’s vote in the south Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius are unlikely to have much global impact.
But 2019 stands out in recent years as one where there is a cluster of elections that may, and probably will, change the flavour of global politics.
Running a finger down the calendar shows standout elections in Nigeria in February, Thailand in March, Israel in April, India in April or May, Indonesia in April, the European Union is May, and Afghanistan in July. Canada, on Oct. 21 is second-last to Mauritius in December.
What distinguishes these seven elections from the other 18 is that the results can have important regional and perhaps even global repercussions.
Nigeria, with its oil wealth and deeply embedded cultural self-confidence, ought to be the growth engine of West Africa. But since its independence from British colonial rule in 1960, Nigeria’s internal frictions and bouts of turmoil have made it only a half-hearted regional partner.
That could begin to change after the Feb. 16 elections, but at the moment the prospect is for Nigeria to remain a source of instability. With Islamic terrorist groups raging throughout West Africa, including Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, this has consequences not only for Nigeria, but also for the region.
Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is most likely to win, but he is deathly ill and unlikely to see out his term. His vice-presidential candidate shows no signs of being a credible successor.
If the other presidential candidate, current Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, wins the main benefit might be a peaceful transfer of power, an all-too infrequent outcome in Nigerian democracy. But Abubakar’s reputation for corruption and his feeble relationship with probity are just as potent as Buhari’s.
Thailand’s government has been under military oversight punctuated by direct military rule since a group of generals seized power, with the acquiescence of the monarch, in 2006. The last dozen years have been an extended campaign by the military and Thailand’s privileged elites to eradicate the populist movement and representative government led by Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister from 2001 until the 2006 coup, and who has attempted to influence Thai politics from exile ever since.
The Thai elections on March 24 will follow a dispensation crafted by the military junta, and designed to see if the generals have succeeded in reinstating a system of highly managed democracy. If that is the case, the results will be allowed to stand. If Thai voters continue to demand that election results reflect the way they want to vote, the generals will go back to the drawing board.
Israeli elections are prime evidence for opponents of proportional representation, who contend that the system makes governments hostage to the most vociferous and determined minorities.
In Israel the result is that governing coalitions tend to lean to the right under the influence of the small, but outspoken and demanding orthodox religious parties.
That’s the likely outcome of Israel’s April 9 elections for the parliament, the Knesset.
The big question is whether current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can survive the corruption allegations is faces. Benny Gantz, a popular former army chief, has formed a new party and released some tentative, vaguely liberal policy positions.
Israeli voters, with an understandable sensitivity to national security, have a habit of looking to former senior military figures for political leadership. But Netanyahu is a formidable political operator who cannot be counted out, even while standing in the dock.
For much of its life since independence from Britain in 1947, India has been not so much a one-party state under the Congress Party, as a one-family state under the Gandhis.
The opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has had interludes in power, but has become firmly entrenched as the party of power since 2014 with leader Narendra Modi as prime minister.
The Congress Party is trying to mount a credible challenge in this year’s elections, to be held in April or May, by forming an alliance of opposition parties.
And Congress is wielding as leader Rahul Gandhi, the son of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, and great-grandson of post-independence prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Whether this abundance of royal jelly will see the Congress-led alliance through is doubtful at the moment. Sage Indian political observers say that if Congress was serious about getting back into power it would draft as leader Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul’s sister, who appears to carry the sizzling political genes of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi.
Indonesia is one of the world’s great political ironies. Fifty-two years ago the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded in large part to stop Indonesia becoming a rogue state by drawing it into community with the other nine states in the region, several of which were developing nicely as democratic societies.
Now, more than half a century later, Indonesia is arguably the only ASEAN member than can be called full-fledged democracy. The other nine have either never made any attempt at political reform, stalled en route, or gone backwards.
What makes Indonesia doubly ironic is that it is the world’s most populous Muslim country. Eighty-eight per cent of its 225 million people follow Islam. The argument that Islam and democracy are incompatible collapses in Indonesia.
There have been hard-fought elections and peaceful transfers of power since military dictator President Suharto, who like many Indonesians used only one name, was ousted in 1998. So the April 17 vote when President Joko Widodo is seeking re-election ought to be a walk in the park.
But there are a couple of storm clouds looming. One is that Indonesia, despite having an underpinning of tolerant Hinduism in its religious history, has not been immune to the trend in Islam towards conservative observance.
Widodo is trying to appeal to that trend by conscripting an austere Muslim cleric as his running mate. Even with this appeal to religion, Widodo will face a stiff challenge from Prabowo Subianto, a former army general, and the son-in-law of ousted dictator Suharto.
Prabowo went into exile for a few years after the upheaval of 1998, when he attempted to launch a military coup, but was foiled by other generals. Since then he has built a formal business and political career, and is now a credible opponent for Widodo.
At a rally held at the beginning of December in Jakarta by supporters of Prabowo, an estimated 3 million people turned out. Of all the elections this year perhaps those for the European Parliament on May 23 will be the most telling.
The assumption is that this will be the first election for the European Union’s (EU) legislative body after the departure of Britain on March 29. But with the terms of Brexit, or even the certainty of it happening, still unresolved there is a degree of mystery around these elections.
What is certain, however, is that observers are going to be look at how well the “populist” parties do. Nationalist parties — some leaning to the right, others to the left — are now entrenched in parliaments across Europe. That is especially obvious in the driving forces of the EU: France and Germany.
The May 23 elections are expected to reveal whether these national trends are going to produce a significant nationalist or populist faction in the EU parliament, and what will be the effects on the community’s view of itself and of the world.
Afghanistan’s recent history has been a long night’s journey into day. That dawn may still be a way off, but there are now signs of a workable political culture taking hold.
Results from last October’s parliamentary elections are still coming out in dribs and drabs, but what is emerging is that President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has significantly more support than previously thought.
It had been concluded by many observers that Ghani was unelectable in the July 20 presidential elections. That no longer looks to be the case. He has support from power brokers across the ethnic divides that make up the brickwork of Afghan government-building.
The Taliban insurgency is still potent, of course, and Afghan tribal coalitions remain highly volatile political gatherings. But if the country can end 2019 chalking up another reasonably successful election it will have been a good year.