Your 2019 guide to 40% of the World’s Elections

Tiago André Lopes

Nearly 80 countries will go to elections this year, that means that more than 40% of the world fully recognized States will face one or more electoral races. Tricky task to follow them all, but here is a Mindthis Magazine guide for some races you shouldn’t miss in understanding the world. 

Africa’s electoral uncertainties

It is true that the first African country to go to polls will be Guinea, but we start this roadmap with Nigeria’s Presidential elections on February 16. Incumbent President Muhammad Buhari is trying to secure his second mandate in order to push for his agenda to curb endemic corruption in the country. On a race with more than 70 candidates vying to become Nigeria’s next President, the main challenge (so far!) comes from the former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and his message of economic reforms and creation of jobs. Will President Buhari secure the second mandate? Or will the voters choose to trust Atiku Abubakar doing to President Buhari, what he did to former President Goodluck?

Madagascar will, most probably, go to elections by the end of March. This is an important race because it happens a few months after the voters have given the opportunity to Andry Rajoelina to return to power after he defeated on the polls the same man that he helped to depose in 2009: Ravalomanana. The parliamentary elections of March will measure the amount of tangible support Rajoelina has in the country and the ability of Madagascar to conduct free, fair and competitive elections.

In April 18, our eyes turn to Algeria and the most probable reelection, for the fifth mandate, of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that has been in power since 1999. The race will be interesting taking into account the low interaction between President and voters since he had a stroke in 2013 and also the rumors of an internal coupled by the President’s brother in 2015. Will Algerian voters endorse the maintenance of stability coupled with economic stagnation? Or is it possible to think of an electoral surprise and to overcome “Libya’s syndrome”?

Tunisia, seen as the biggest (if not the only!) winner with the Arab Season, will see two electoral races: first, in October, the 217 seats of the Parliament will be up for grabs. Nidaa Tounes (a catch-all secularist party) and Ennahdha Party (Muslim democratic party) will again clash their sociopolitical agendas and try to present the best plan to solve the economic turmoil the threatens to throw Tunisia to a new cycle of instability. In December the voters will be called to elect a new Head of State. So far, we know that President Essebi (Nidaa Tounes) is eligible for a second mandate and that his cohabitation with the Ennahdha dominated Parliament was anything but easy.

Elections in Asia: puzzles or riddles?

The main riddle in Asia is Thailand! Will this be the year when the NCPO military government, that took power with a coup on May 2014, will finally end the continuous postponements of the elections that where initially bound to happen in 2015? And if the elections happen will the 250 mandates up for grabs in the lower house be allocated with and open, free, fair and competitive election? What will be the impact of the new electoral reforms that give to NCPO the power to nominate all the members of the Senate house?

In May 13, the Philippines will have multiple races happening at the same time. With President Rodrigo Duterte mid-way on his mandate the election outcome is a good barometer to measure the popularity of the man that has scandalized the world with the ferocity of his comments. Of course, a poor performance in the elections won’t directly impact the style of President Duterte since he is ineligible to run in 2022.

Afghanistan is also set to have an interesting election. The Presidential election was initially set to happen April but last December the Election Commission announced the need for a postponement to solve technical, bureaucratic and administrative issues… some observers even say that ideally the elections should be after September and not before. It is early to speculate about candidates but a couple of things are already on the table, especially the fact that USA seems to be in a withdrawing momentum (Syria being the latest to feel that).

What will be the impact of the elections in the overall security situation in the country, taking into account that the last round of talks with the Taliban failed to produce any outcomes? Will the election produce, again, a strange outcome like in 2014 when Ashraf Ghani won and became President and Abdullah Abdullah didn’t won and became Chief Executive (extra-constitutional post created for him!) and both candidates agreed that the vote totals of the second round would not be disclosed…

Europe’s intense electoral year

28 countries of Europe (29 if we include Russia’s by-election for the Duma scheduled to happen in September) will have either local, regional, parliamentary or presidential elections or a mix. The last day of March will see an interesting Presidential election in Ukraine. Whoever is elected will count with a mandate that is not sanctioned by 100% of Ukrainian voters because more than 10% of those same voters will be unable to cast their vote due to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing civil strife in the Donbass region.

In all rigor, only after February 9 we will have a full picture of the candidates but we can hypothesize that the most interesting clash will be between former Prime-Minister (and Orange Revolutionactivist) Yulia Tymoshenko and incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. Ah! And Volodymyr Zelensky, comedy-actor-turned-politician, should also be counted as a potential frontrunner. Zelensky has played the role of President of Ukraine on a popular TV show that gave origin to a homonymous political party registered last year: Servant of the People.Will fiction become reality to Zelensky?

In April, Macedonia, that recently adopted the new official name Republic of North Macedonia ending an almost three decades long name dispute with neighboring Greece, will go for a symbolic yet important presidential election. The end of the name dispute with the Hellenic Republic opens the door for the (new!) Republic of North Macedonia to pursue bids to become a NATO and an EU member. If the first one seems almost a fait accomplithe second one will be a complicated and long-road, filled with challenges in which a friendly Head of State is most needed. The current President Ivanov, that cannot run for another mandate, was (and still is) in disagreement with Prime-Minister Zaev throughout the process to solve the name issue, saying the solution found “deletes Macedonia’s national identity”.  Will the next Head of State be friendlier to Zaev’s political agenda?

The European Union is not a State, although some official fetishize with a non-existing Federation, but it will have elections from May 23 to 26 to fill all the 751 seats up for grabs in the European Parliament. The election will provide answers to three fundamental questions: 1.) how strong is Euroscepticism in the (presumably) post-Brexit E.U.? Several polls seem to indicate a strengthening of Eurosceptic voices in the upcoming E.U. Parliament but will these be confirmed? And will Eurosceptics remained divided among several groups like the ENF, ECR and EFDD?

2.) Which European Party will get more seats? Is the EPP on track to regain the “crown”, or can S&D take the lead this time? Or is it time for ALDE to surprise us all and jump from fourth biggest political party to first? And finally, 3.) how enthusiastic are European voters with such procedures? Will the participation rates be disapprovingly low, like they were in 2014? And if so, will Brussels be able to humbly read and recognize the need to do something different instead of the persistence on a top-down bureaucratic crafting of a Pan-Federal entity?

Point of personal interest! The legislative elections in Portugal, scheduled for October 5, will also be quite interesting to follow. In 2015 the center-right (PSD)/right wing (CDS-PP) coalition (Portugal Ahead) won the elections but was unable to reach simple majority and so the government fall, due to successful a no confidencemotion, 27 days after it was formed.

The Socialist Party was able to do something new in the History of Portugal’s III Republic: a parliamentary coalition between the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Left Bloc to support a minority cabinet by the Socialist Party. Many analysts predicted that the unexpected coalition (dubbed Geringonça)would last one or two years but the solution lasted for the entire legislature. Will the 2019 elections provide room for the continuation of the Geringonça? Or will the Socialist Party dwarf its partners? Can the PSD and CDS, that are not going to run on a pre-electoral coalition this time, regain control of the Parliament?

Latin America and Middle East interesting races

June 16 is the date for Guatemala’s General election, comprising three races: first-round of the Presidential election; election of the 160 seats for Congress and election of 20 mandates for the Central American Parliament. President Jimmy Morales mandate was riddled with multiple corruption scandals that confirmed the endemic nature of corruption in the political-bureaucratic structures of the country. In January this year, President Morales stunned the diplomatic world with his decision to expel the officer leading the UN anti-corruption body (CICIG). Last year, in August, President Morales had already told he would not renew the mandate of the body that is due to expire September 2019.

With President Morales barred by the Constitution to apply for another turn, it will be interesting to see who will take the mantle and how much the electoral reforms (that, for example, introduce the dissolution of all parties with less than 5% of votes in the elections or of parties that do not file candidates in at least half of the electoral districts, exception granted to parties able to elect one representative in the 160-seats Congress) will impact the political system in Guatemala.

In October it will be the time for Argentina to have general elections: electing the President as well as 130 representatives to the Chamber of Deputies (slightly above half of the available 257 seats) and 24 Senators (one third of the available mandates). Argentina’s high unemployment rates, economic corruption and political corruption are the main topics of a race that, so far, is poised to see incumbent President Mauricio Macri facing former President Cristina Kirchner or the 2015’s frontrunner, Daniel Scioli. Or all of them. Will Bolsonaro’s election in Brazil bring good fortune to right wing populist candidates?

Before the Latin American races, Israel will go for early legislative elections on April 9. The March 2015 election saw a pulverization of votes, with voters rallying mostly under ethnic and religious lines. A grand total of thirteen political parties entered to the 120-seats Knesset (Israeli Parliament), when in 2013 only ten parties had succeed.

The dispersion of votes made the composition of a ruling coalition a particularly thorny task and was a constant source of pressure for Prime-Minister Netanyahu. It was the dissolution of the ruling coalition that led to the April 2019 scrutiny. The main questions are: will 2019 see a similar dispersion of votes? Or will the Knesset have a less intense and turbulent legislature? Can Netanyahu rip the benefit of an early election and strengthen is party dominance?