What’s hot in 2014
As 2013 closes, this is a chance to look at which elections might be most exciting and interesting in 2014. As in past years, there will be some snap elections which we will not have seen coming, some elections which will not happen, and other elections which will turn out to be less important or interesting than originally assumed. In the next twelve months, you can expect almost every single one of these elections to be covered in some level of detail on this blog.
Canada: At the federal level, attention will be focused on the groundwork for the 2015 federal election now that the three major parties are set (barring any major surprises) in their leadership. Particularly, will Justin Trudeau’s Liberal hold their momentum? Will 2014 prove as difficult as 2013 for Harper’s Conservative government? Will Thomas Mulcair’s NDP regain lost support and place itself as a major contender for what might be a three-way race for first in 2013? Provincially, September or October 2014 will see an election in New Brunswick, in which the Liberal opposition is the runaway favourite. The NDP, weak in NB provincial politics, will be a factor to watch as they’re currently neck-and-neck with Premier David Alward’s unpopular Conservative government. Of more interest, however, are what appears to be likely early elections in Quebec and Ontario – two provinces with minority government. In Quebec, Premier Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois (PQ) government opted not to call a snap election for December 2013, but most believe that it will go to the polls sometime in early 2014. The government’s controversial Quebec Charter of Values will be a major issue in the election. The PQ will be hoping to win a majority government, but they are trailing or statistically tied with the Liberal opposition in polls. In Ontario, Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to face the voters in an early election, perhaps in the spring of 2014. In power for ten years, the provincial Liberal government is hit by major scandals, voter fatigue and a struggling economy; but Wynne is more popular than her discredited predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, and is still polling relatively well – although the Tories, led by Tim Hudak, are leading in the polls. Hudak is a poor leader and has faced internal challenges (albeit isolated) to his leadership in 2013, following poor Tory showings in five by-elections in August 2013 (in which the Liberals lost three seats). Municipal elections in Ontario on October 27 will be followed if only for the race in Toronto.
United States: Will the 2014 midterm elections be as bloody for President Barack Obama and the Democrats as Obama’s first midterms, in 2010, were? One year after taking office for a second term, Obama’s approval rating is down to the low 40s, after a tough year marred by the NSA surveillance scandal, mini-scandals, a botched Obamacare rollout and other issues. On the other hand, the Republicans are hardly more popular, being held responsible (by a plurality, but by no means all) for the 2013 government shutdown and the deadlock in Congress; additionally, a recovering economy may help Obama. In congressional elections, Republican control of the House does not appear to be in any danger, thanks in part to gerrymandering. Republicans need to gain six seats to win control of the Senate, this is not out of reach but still probably an uphill battle. If retiring Democrats in ‘red states’ such as South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana open the door to likely Republican gains; the GOP would still need another three victories and no loses – among Democratic-held seats, Arkansas is the most vulnerable while Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska and Michigan may also fall – but appear, for now, more difficult. But some Democrats are confident that they stand a chance against the GOP in Kentucky and Georgia, although gaining seats in GOP-leaning states in midterms will be tough. Gubernatorial races will feature interesting contests as well, especially with the freshmen of the ‘class of 2010′ facing reelection. Some first-term Republican incumbents in Pennsylvania, Florida and Maine appear very weak, but others in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico are far more solid. Republicans will hope to gain Arkansas and Illinois.
Central and South America
El Salvador: February 2 will see the first round of a presidential election to succeed one-term President Mauricio Funes (ineligible for consecutive reelection). It is shaping up to be a very close race between Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the governing left-wing Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) and San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), with former President Antonio Saca of the centre-right GANA/Unidad coalition, an ARENA splinter, holding the keys to victory in the runoff for either men. While the FMLN is the least unpopular party, the runoff on March 9 will be closely disputed. President Funes, a moderate leftist, is relatively popular but El Salvador struggles with an extremely high homicide rate (one of the highest in the world) and a sluggish economy. ARENA defeated the FMLN in midterm legislative elections in 2012.
Panama: Interesting presidential elections are brewing in Panama, scheduled for early May. Right-wing President Ricardo Martinelli is relatively unpopular as he leaves office, with a mixed record and an administration in disarray. Martinelli, a wealthy businessman, is nevertheless keen on retaining a stake in politics after he leaves. José Domingo, the candidate of Martinelli’s party, Democratic Change, is a relative unknown seen as pliable and pro-Martinelli; he is currently barely ahead. Martinelli, however, would likely be extremely displeased if Juan Carlos Navarro, the leader and candidate of the main opposition party, the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) wins – he is a close second in polls – because Navarro and Martinelli are sworn enemies. Complicating matters is the candidacy of Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, a former ally of the President who has since turned on him and is running for president as the candidate of the old vaguely centrist Panameñista (or Arnulfista) Party. Varela, who has used the vice presidential office to criticize Martinelli, is in third place.
Colombia: President Juan Manuel Santos, first elected in 2010, will run for a second term in presidential elections scheduled for May 25, after congressional elections on March 9. When Santos was first elected in 2010, he was seen (not entirely correctly) as the favourite of then-President Álvaro Uribe, a conservative known for his hardline security policy in the long-lasting civil conflict against the FARC rebels. In office, however, Santos broke with his predecessor by adopting a far more moderate position on security – opening negotiations with the FARC in 2012, with have stalled numerous times. Santos is the favourite, but his main rival will be Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the candidate of the right-wing uribista Uribe Centro Democrático. Santos currently holds a large lead in polls, but many are undecided and Santos remains far below 50% of voting intentions.
Brazil: The presidential and legislative in Brazil on October 5 will be closely followed. Incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) is the favourite. While she has been a relatively strong president who has stepped out of her predecessor’s, Lula, shadow and taken a slightly tougher stance against corruption in her own party, she has faced difficulties with a weaker economy than in previous years, divisions in the governing alliance and corruption scandals or trials hitting her coalition or the PT. Dilma remains personally popular, and her moderate economic and fiscal policies have made her popular with more right-leaning voters as well. However, the government and the entire political elite was shaken by unprecedented massive protests in June 2013, which initially were protests against public transit fare hikes but which quickly became catch-all expressions of urban discontent with the inefficient provision of social services, deficiencies in infrastructure, political corruption and heavy government spending (overspending) for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. Dilma’s popularity was hit, but she recovered since, as she took the initiative in proposing reforms and new policies responding to protesters’ demands (but not all of them). The Mais Médicos program, designed to attract doctors to peripheral and interior municipalities, has been cited as a major factor in her popularity’s recovery. Dilma, in the absence of solid opposition, remains the early favourite for October 2014. The centre-right PSDB’s candidate, Minas Gerais senator Aécio Neves, was once hailed as the party’s great hope for 2014 but his senatorial term has been uninspiring and Neves has low support in polls. Eduardo Campos, the governor of Pernambuco and the leader of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), a former PT ally, is a strong contender on paper but 2014 may be too early for him. Marina Silva, the 2010 Green candidate who broke with the Green Party in 2011, was unable to have her new movement registered, forcing her to join the PSB and she will not be running.
Also worth following: presidential and congressional elections in Costa Rica (Feb. 2), Bolivia (late 2014) and Uruguay (Oct. 26 and Nov. 30).
European Union (Parliament): European elections will be held in all 28 member states of the EU between May 22 and 25. While turnout is low in most countries and many voters do not really understand the purposes of the election, EU elections are often interesting (and, for some countries, significant) tests of public opinion for European governments – given that voters, despite innumerable efforts to the contrary, still vote largely based on the national political situation and their party system. These elections are made more interesting given that the new Parliament will elect the EU Commission president based on recommendations from the European Council, itself taking into account the results of the election. The pan-European parties have or will nominate presidential candidates, some parties – like the European Greens – choosing to involve voters in the process through open primaries. The hope is that voters in the member states will take pan-European parties’ candidates into account when voting, but that seems rather unlikely.
If I will be closely following the elections it is because they are tests of public opinion in 28 countries, even if low turnout, proportional voting systems and the propensity for midterm ‘middle finger voting’ in EU elections makes them less than entirely reliable and ‘accurate’. Since the 2009 EU elections, many countries have since elected new governments (Portugal, Spain, France, the UK, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Finland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Lithuania, Denmark, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta) – many of these governments – especially in the Iberian Peninsula, France, the UK, Ireland and Denmark – are now quite unpopular. Greece, Italy and the Czech Republic have seen huge changes in the party system since 2009, with Greek politics seemingly fundamentally realigned because of the economic crisis and Italy having seen a new party (Grillo’s M5S) rise in 2013. Each country will be worth watching, but some of the more interesting countries would probably be Spain, France, the UK, Ireland, Italy, Belgium and Greece (obviously!).
Belgium: Federal and regional elections will be held along with the EU elections in Belgium on May 25. Belgian politics have become famously unstable and polarized; after the June 2010 elections, a governing coalition was only formed in December 2011 and after a major constitutional reform which devolves powers to regions/communities, splits the contentious district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde and turns the Senate into an unelected assembly of regional parliaments. Francophone Socialist Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, at the helm of a coalition made up of the French/Walloon and Dutch/Flemish Socialist, Liberal and Catholic parties, has held the country together but little has changed politically – deadlock ahoy? In Wallonia, the historically dominant Socialists retain their usual sizeable lead over the liberal Reformist Movement (MR), which will be hurt in Francophone Brussels by the scission of the Fédéralistes Démocrates Francophones (FDF), a federalist and French-speakers’ lobby group which was a component of the MR until 2011. In Flanders, Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever’s New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a Flemish nationalist party which became the largest party in Flanders and the whole of Belgium in 2010, becoming the main reason behind the 500+ day political deadlock. The N-VA continues to lead Flemish polls, with slightly increased support from 2010, and will likely re-emerge as the largest party in Flanders in the federal (and regional) elections. What this will mean for the government and the formation of a new one, only time will tell.
Scotland: A much-awaited and talked-about referendum on Scottish independence on September 18. While some thought that First Minister Alex Salmond would seek to hold a referendum which would include an option for full devolution short of independence (devo-max), Scottish voters will finally be asked a straight yes-no question – Should Scotland be an independent country? The current polling suggests that the no option retains plurality support and records double-digit leads over the yes in most polls. The yes option is stuck in the high 20s or low 30s. The real campaign, however, has not yet started and it’s possible that voting intentions may change as interest picks up and the campaigns kick off in earnest. Expect significant debate on issues such as an independent Scotland’s economic strength and viability, whether Scotland would remain a member of the EU and NATO without needing to re-apply in the case of independence and relations with the rest of the UK especially as it concerns currency or defense.
Sweden: Swedish elections are scheduled to be held on September 14. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s centre-right coalition, led by his Moderate Party, will be hoping to win a third term in office, first elected in 2006. Voter fatigue, however, has set in. Reinfeldt is not particularly unpopular and his government’s record fairly decent by most accounts (but never devoid of controversy, naturally), but the right is criticized for lacking ideas for the future. The Social Democratic-led left-wing opposition, hampered by a poor campaign in 2010, have recovered some lost support under Stefan Löfvén’s surprisingly strong leadership of the party since 2012. The centre-right coalition is weakened by its two smallest parties, the Centre and Christian Democrats, hovering at or below the 4% threshold – if one or both of them fail to win seats in Parliament, it will be a bad blow to the right’s chances of winning reelection. The left may be hurt by concerns over the inclusion of the Left Party in a centre-left cabinet. However, the right began as underdogs in 2010 but won reelection (with a minority), meaning that this race shouldn’t be called early. On the far-right, the performance of the Sweden Democrats, which won their first seats in 2010, will be worth following. From 5.7% in 2010, they have increased their support in polls to 9%.
Hungary: Elections will be held in Hungary by June 30. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s conservative government, which has a two-thirds majority in the Parliament, has drawn widespread criticism – including from the EU – for a series of new laws and a new constitution which critics claim undermine judicial independence, freedom of the press, the independence of the central bank and the data protection office. For example, through a new media law the government intends to tighten regulation and control of most media sources, subjecting it to a regulatory body whose members are all nominated by the Parliament (and thus, the ruling party), all with the aim of strengthening domestic media sources which are mostly owned by allies of the ruling party. Although these trends are concerning, Hungary is not a ‘rogue state’ or authoritarian pariah. Viktor Orbán is likely to win reelection, although seemingly with a somewhat reduced majority. The main opposition party, the Socialists (MSZP) remain largely discredited and have suffered from several splits, as such they are hardly on a better footing than in 2010. Two former MSZP Prime Ministers will be competing with their own parties: Ferenc Gyurcsány (2004-2009, whose closed-door admission that he had been lying to Hungarians began the MSZP’s slow descent to hell) is leading the Democratic Coalition (DK) and Gordon Bajnai (2009-2010) is leading Together 2014.
France: Municipal elections will precede the EU elections in France, on March 23 and 30. These are the first nationwide political ‘test’ for President François Hollande’s deeply unpopular Socialist (PS) government. Many are expecting a vote sanction against the government, and the right (UMP) and far-right (FN) will be hoping to benefit from an anti-government ‘middle finger’ vote. However, if municipal elections in the past have clearly obeyed to national political mood swings (1977, 1983, 2008), the fact remains that municipal elections still follow different dynamics: many residents like their incumbent mayor regardless of partisan affiliation, many voters still claim to vote primarily based on local rather than national issues, candidate personality and strength matters a great deal and politics in small towns (less than 1,000 inhabitants) use a different electoral system and are almost always completely non-partisan and fully dependent on local factors. However, voters in the larger cities do tend to be less closely attached to ‘their’ mayors and they are the ones who often decide the national implications of the results. Yet, despite the government’s record high unpopularity, the PS remains favoured to hold Paris and Lyon and it even fancies its chances in France’s other major city – Marseille – where the performance of the far-right FN will be determinant. The UMP and its allies would like major cities such as Angers, Amiens, Metz, Reims, Strasbourg or Saint-Étienne to switch sides. The far-right’s performance will be closely followed; in 2008 the FN was at record lows, but now it stands at record highs as it might top the poll in the EU elections. The far-right has a tougher time in municipal elections, because of the difficulty of fielding complete lists in all towns, but it has done well in past local elections – most remarkably 1995, when it won Toulon (to lose it in a landslide in 2001). They will heavily target far-right hotspots including Marine Le Pen’s adopted homebase of Hénin-Beaumont, while in other towns their qualification for the runoff in three-way runoffs (triangulaires) may have unintended consequences, good and bad, for both the left and right. Expect thorough posts on these elections, and the EU elections in France, as they come up.
Catalonia: The Catalan government intends to hold a two-question referendum on the autonomous community’s political future on November 9. Voters, according to questions recently announced by the Catalan government, will be asked if they want Catalonia to be a ‘state’ and, if so, if they want this state to be independent. Unlike in Scotland, where the referendum will go ahead following a precedent-setting agreement between the Scottish government and the UK government, there is no such agreement in Spain. The Catalan government, led by the increasingly nationalist-separatist centre-right Convergence and Union (CiU) and backed by the left-wing separatist Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), has been locked in a war of words and thinly-veiled threats with the Spanish government, led by the conservative and anti-nationalist Popular Party (PP). Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, backed by the main opposition party in Spain, the Socialists (PSOE), considers the referendum to be illegal and vows it will not go ahead. If Spain did allow the vote to go ahead, it would mark an historic (and dangerous, in Madrid’s eyes) precedent which might be used by nationalists in the Basque Country and other ‘peripheral nationalist’ communities to seek independence. If it did go ahead, furthermore, polling indicates that – unlike in Scotland – a majority of Catalan voters would vote yes on both questions and open up a constitutional crisis of gigantic proportions. As such, don’t expect this referendum to go ahead legally, but the issue is on the table and a referendum is now a matter of political debate. Where will this take Catalonia and Spain?
Also worth following: local elections in Greece (May 18), England and Northern Ireland (May 22), presidential elections in Macedonia, Slovakia (March), Lithuania (May) and Romania (November), and legislative elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Oct. 5) and Moldova (by November).
Asia and Oceania
Turkey: There will be local elections on March 30 followed by the first direct presidential elections in August. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has ruled the country since 2002, benefiting from the absence of a viable alternative to the AKP. The Turkish economy has done well under AKP government, and the country has gained a more prominent rule in regional and European politics. However, Erdoğan has faced criticism for his authoritarian style, and his government’s socially conservative and Islamist policies have flown in the face of the country’s old secular elite and the military. In June 2013, the government faced unexpectedly large popular protests, which began in late May as a local protest in Istanbul over the government’s redevelopment of a popular park, but which quickly became a large-scale protest against the government’s authoritarianism and restriction of civil liberties and basic freedoms. The government cracked down on the protests, leading to charges of police brutality. Only days ago, in December, the sons of three cabinet ministers along with other public officials were arrested in a bribery investigation. Erdoğan, who seems to see sinister conspiracies all around him, responded by sacking top police chiefs. The three ministers whose sons were arrested, including the interior and economic ministers, resigned on December 25, very critical of Erdoğan. These two events mark a turning point for the AKP, the first significant setbacks for the increasingly powerful ruling party. This makes the local elections open ended. Erdoğan will likely run for president as he may not run for a fourth term as Prime Minister in 2015 due to party by-laws, and Erdoğan’s goal is to transform Turkey in a presidential rather than parliamentary republic. The elections will test whether the opposition, a rag-tag and uninspiring bunch, have been able to benefit from the protests or the corruption arrests.
Iraq: Legislative elections are scheduled to be held in Iraq on April 30. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been in power since 2006, will be seeking a third term – an attempt by his opponents to pass a law banning him from running for a third term was overturned. Maliki, a politician from the Iraqi Shi’a majority, has been accused of seeking to consolidate his power at the expense of the Sunni majority, the dominant political elite under Saddam Hussein. In December 2011, the Iraqi security forces issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a senior Sunni politician, on charges that he was running a death squad. Although he fled to Turkey, he was sentenced to death in absentia. In December 2012, a raid on the home of Sunni finance minister Rufi al-Issawi kicked off large Sunni anti-government protests. The insurgency and sectarian violence worsened in 2013, which was the bloodiest year since 2008 with about 8,500 deaths according to independent estimates. Maliki’s Shi’a State of Law coalition won provincial elections held in April 2013, although with slightly less seats than in 2009. Iraqi politics remain very sectarian; within the Shi’a majority, Maliki’s coalition faces competition from Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sadrist Movement, and Ammar al-Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
India: The largest democracy in the world will hold massive general elections sometime during the spring. The Congress-led alliance (UPA) has governed the country since 2004, and while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is generally appreciated but ineffectual, the Congress finds itself in a difficult position ahead of the 2014 elections. Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, which began in 2011, has undermined the government and galvanized the public’s interest in the issue. Economic growth is low, inflation is low and joblessness is high. Investors often charge that economic growth is being hampered by the government’s reluctance or inability to reform the economy and allow for more foreign direct investment. Indeed, the government’s reformist attempts have often been held down by the INC’s venal allies who often have little interest in economic reform and far more interest in protecting their turf. The Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi and her lacklustre son Rahul Gandhi, offers little in the way of inspiring policy. The favourite to succeed the Congress would be Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat and the prime ministerial candidate of a right-wing alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party. Modi’s economic record in Gujarat is rather good (but critics point out poverty and human development remain huge issues), but he has a nasty past in fuelling ethnic violence in Gujarat and his promotion of an often chauvinistic and exclusive brand of Hindu nationalism. Modi, however, has tried to soften his image and has strong backing from the business community; and he’s a strong campaigner popular with his own party. The BJP was handed a major boost in state elections whose results were announced on December 8: the BJP defeated incumbent INC governments in Rajasthan and Delhi, easily held Madhya Pradesh and held back an INC offensive in Chhattisgarh. In Delhi, the elections resulted in a hung parliament, with a new anti-corruption movement, the Aam Aadmi Party, winning 28 seats to the BJP’s 32 and Congress’ disastrous 8. However, a BJP government torn apart by corruption and infighting in the southern state of Karnataka badly lost reelection to a surging Congress.
Indian federal politics, however, remain a complex game of ever-evolving state-by-state alliances. Some states have their own party systems, in which the BJP and/or Congress are both weak. There are regionalist parties, parties with a defined regional base and national parties without a presence in some states. The BJP recently lost the backing of the Janata Dal (United), a party led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Some polls, notoriously flawed and unreliable in a country like India, have suggested that parties outside the two main alliances may hold a plurality of seats between themselves, forcing both main alliances to buy the support of the smaller parties.
Afghanistan: Presidential elections are due to be held in Afghanistan on April 5, and President Hamid Karzai – who has been in power since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001 – is ineligible for reelection. The three major candidates appear to be Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Qayyum Karzai. Abdullah, a former foreign minister and close friend of the late Northern Alliance rebel leader Ahmad Shah Masoud, lost the 2009 presidential election to Karzai, officially taking 30.6% in the first round, marred by serious allegations of large-scale fraud and vote rigging in Karzai’s favour. Since then, he has been the main opponent of the outgoing president. Ashraf Ghani, an economist and academic who lived in exile in the west for decades before returning to Afghanistan to serve as finance minister from 2002 to 2004. Ghani ran in the 2009 election and was perceived as being the most pro-US candidate; he received only 2.9%. Qayyum Karzai is one of President Karzai’s brothers, who, like his siblings, is a controversial businessman-politician embroiled in several corruption scandals.
Thailand: To counter a rising protest movement, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the House and called for elections on February 2. The protests, which began in November, are the latest in a series of protests in Thailand’s famously polarized politics. This time, the protesters are the ‘yellow shirts’ – conservative (often proto-fascist) monarchists drawn from the country’s elites and often counting on the tacit support of Thailand’s politicized military. They oppose Yingluck, a political newcomer who is the sister of exiled and deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – a business magnate whose social policies made him the hero of northeastern Thailand’s impoverished masses but whose corruption, authoritarianism and populism made him the sworn enemy of the yellow shirts. The military overthrew him in a 2006 coup which defines Thai politics to this day. Yellow shirts protested a pro-Thaksin elected government in 2008, pro-Thaksin ‘red shirts’ protested against a militarily-sanctioned opposition government in 2010. Yingluck called the election to catch the yellows, supported by the Democrat Party – the main conservative opposition force – unprepared and call their bluff. The opposition and yellows, knowing that they would not win an election anymore than in 2011 or 2007, will boycott the election. But don’t read this as a sign that the yellows are conceding victory. Their leader, who is also a senior Democrat politician, Suthep Thaugsuban, wants an unelected governing council to replace Yingluck as a transitional measure. Unofficially, the yellows are banking on a military coup. On December 27, a military commander did not rule out a coup. This could follow a cycle similar to that in April 2006: Thaksin called for elections, the opposition boycotted them, polarization and political violence deepened and the military intervened in September 2006.
Indonesia: Another heavily populated Asian democracy, Indonesia, holds legislative elections on April 9 followed by presidential elections on July 9 (with a possible runoff in September). President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in office since 2004, may not run for reelection. Since 2004, SBY, as he is referred to, has presided over a period of rapid economic growth which made Indonesia a booming country. However, the last year has been tougher for his administration, as the economy slowed down (from 6.2% to 5.3% GDP growth) and the administration faced questions over its inability to upgrade infrastructure, reform inefficient bureaucracy, tackle widespread corruption and ill-managed decentralization. The President’s party, the Democratic Party, is heavily trailing in the polls and does not seem to have a clear presidential frontrunner of its own. The April legislative elections will determine who is able to run in July, because candidates need to be backed by a party or a coalition thereof which won over 20% of the vote. For the moment, the two main candidates for the presidency are Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo. Prabowo is a former special forces commander and the son-in-law of former President Suharto, Indonesia’s authoritarian strongman between 1967 and 1998. He is alleged to have played a role in the disappearance of pro-democracy activists in the late 1990s. Prabowo, who heads a small party, Gerindra, which won only 4.5% in the 2009 legislative elections, is a populist and lashes out at the political ‘elites’ and corruption. He is currently trailing in polls, however, to Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta since September 2012. A relatively young politician at 52, Jokowi – as he’s known – is untied to the old political Suharto-era leadership and he has a record as an efficient and transparent administration, as mayor and since 2012 as governor (he defeated Fauzi Bowo, the incumbent governor backed by the president’s party). Jokowi, who would be backed by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle – one of the three main parties - isn’t confirmed as a candidate, as he will need to face down a potential challenge from former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s first President who served between 2001 and 2004. Leaving a mediocre impression, she lost reelection to SBY in 2004 and lost the 2009 election as well.
New Zealand: Voters in New Zealand will go to the polls near the end of 2014, likely in November. Prime Minister John Key’s conservative National Party remain far ahead of the main opposition, the Labour Party. Key has performed, by most accounts, generally well since winning reelection in 2011 – the economy is strong, there are no crippling scandals attached to the government and Labour has struggled in opposition. However, he has faced a few problems: he was personally criticized for allowing illegal spying by the intelligence services on Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload. The government’s mixed ownership model, a plan to partially privatize (49%) of four state-owned energy companies and sell off part of the government’s share in Air New Zealand (from 74% to 51%), has been rather controversial. In December, the government suffered a setback on mixed ownership when 67% of voters voted against the model in a citizens-initiated referendum. Labour has picked itself up, a bit, from a disastrous showing in 2011 – its worst result since the 1920s – but it struggled through one leader before finally choosing a new one, David Cunliffe, in September 2013. The National Party leads Labour by about ten points, and remains high in the polls (mid-40s). However, Key may have trouble finding allies for a new government after the election: both of his junior partners may lose their sole seats, and a Labour-Green coalition may hold a majority of seats, especially if Winston Peters’ populist NZ First fails to return to Parliament (it is consistently polling under 5%, but it was underestimated in 2011).
Also worth following: Australian state elections in Southern Australia (March 15), Tasmania (before June), and Victoria (Nov. 29), legislative elections in Bangladesh (Jan. 5) and Lebanon (by October).
South Africa: The fifth democratic elections since the fall of apartheid, the 2014 South African elections (likely in April) mark the twentieth anniversary of multi-racial democracy in the country and they are, symbolically, the first election in which the ‘born free’ generation – children born after 1994 – will be eligible to vote. These elections will probably be the country’s most exciting elections since 1994. President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC), the dominant party since 1994, remains the favourite and will almost certainly win another absolute majority. However, the ANC finds itself seriously weakened by corruption, failures at service delivery, incompetent or inefficient administration and deficient infrastructure and social services. President Zuma himself is in hot water with a continuing scandal over taxpayer-funded upgrades at his Nkandla homestead, upgrades which included – among other lavish expenses for personal use – a swimming pool. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) made gains in the 2011 local government elections and will likely make gains in 2014 as well, but the DA still remains perceived as too much of a white party for its own good, despite attempts to promote new (and generally talented) black leaders. The ANC faces a new challenge from two new parties expected to draw black voters from the ANC. Mamphela Ramphele, a former anti-apartheid activist (she was the life partner of Black Conciousness leader Steve Biko, killed by the apartheid regime) and one-time Managing Director at the World Bank, created a new party – Agang – in February 2013, which has been criticized for being extremely vague as to its policies. A more serious threat will be Julius Malema’s new Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party; Malema is a former ANC Youth League leader known for his fiery, nationalist and left-wing populist rhetoric which have won him unsympathetic comparisons to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. EFF directly challenges the ANC for hitherto reliably ANC voters in poor black townships and rural areas.
I hope to write a massive guide to South African history and politics before the election.
Also worth following: presidential and/or general elections in Algeria (April), Mozambique (Oct. 15) and Namibia (November), legislative elections in Botswana (by October), constituent assembly elections in Libya (February) and constitutional referendum in Egypt (Jan. 14-15).
Which elections are you most excited for in 2014?