What’s hot in 2012
As we wrap up 2011, we close the door on a very momentous year in terms of electoral politics. Some of the elections held in the past years are sure to mark history in one way or another twenty years from now. Even in cases where they won’t mark history, the elections of 2011 were certainly all interesting and a few were downright fascinating. Last year, I had previewed the elections which I had seen as being “hot” in 2011. Obviously, I hadn’t foreseen the Egyptian or Tunisian elections and had not imagined the importance of the Russian elections. This year, I try to do the same thing by looking ahead at 2012 and picking out the elections which will be interesting. Obviously, as in 2011, there are elections in 2012 which we won’t expect (given the geopolitical events of 2011, nothing can be predicted for sure!) and a few of those which we expect to be interesting will be a snoozefest.
Canada (Alberta, potential provincial elections and NDP federal leadership): For the first time since 2006, Canadians won’t wake up in 2012 with quasi-weekly headlines proclaiming the inevitably of a snap federal elections. Federal politics is not really the place to be right now in Canadian politics, but there are still interesting federal leadership contests shaping up. In March, the official opposition NDP will choose from within a crowded field of 8 candidates a leader to replace the late Jack Layton. The ability of whoever becomes leader of the NDP to hold the gains of the orange wave in Quebec back in May 2011 will be crucial. In 2013, the Liberals will choose a permanent leader who will attempt to return Canada’s natural governing party to the glory of years past (or at least the “not-that-bad-compared-to-2011” years of 2006-2011!).
In provincial politics, Alberta holds a provincial election before June which promises to be the most closely fought election in Alberta in years. The governing PCs, in office since 1971, go into battle with a new Premier, Alison Redford, who hails from the party’s left-wing (Red Tories). They face their main challenge not from the Liberals, who are on life support or the NDP, which are doing hardly better; but rather from their right with the libertarian Wildrose Party which has 4 MLAs. For a PC dynasty used to win landslides, 2012 may mark their first true challenge to their hegemony enjoyed since Peter Lougheed defeated the SoCred dynasty in 1971.
Quebec and British Columbia’s Premiers may choose to go the polls early. In British Columbia, Liberal Premier Christy Clark might try her hand at winning her first government at the polls, but the NDP’s lead over the Liberals and the emergence of a right-wing challenge to the centre-right Liberals might discourage her. In Quebec, Premier Jean Charest’s Liberals are at their lowest point in decades but the official opposition, formed by the left-nationalist PQ is also at its lowest point in decades. The political scene in la belle province is completely turned on its head by François Legault’s new party, the CAQ, which just merged with the ADQ. If Quebec votes in 2012, Legault enters as the runaway favourite but it remains to be seen how solid the support for the politically ambiguous CAQ really is.
United States: Needless to say, the American presidential election in 2012, coupled with the GOP primaries and the concurrent Senate, House and state house battles will attract the world’s attention. It is pretty useless to remind you of the importance of the American elections. The Republican primaries, beginning on January 3 in Iowa, have been all over the place with no less than five frontrunners. Will Ron Paul, the insurgent surging in Iowa, carry through with a win in Iowa? Or will Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry or even Michele Bachmann be able to retrieve conservative support as the “not-Romney” opponent to Mitt Romney, the only candidate whose support has neither surged nor collapsed since he announced his candidacy. Who the Republicans put up against Obama in November will matter a lot, and will perhaps have a downballot effect for Republicans seeking to gain control of the Senate (with close races in states such as MT, ND, NE, MO, VA, FL, MA and NV) and trying to retain their majority in the House, whose races will be fought on new congressional district lines often redistricted by Republican state legislatures.
Mexico: Twelve years after Vicente Fox’s election ended over 70 years of rule by the PRI, the same PRI is now the favourite to regain the presidency from the term-limited Felipe Calderón on July 1, 2012. Against a government PAN which struggles to find a strong candidate out of its three contenders and a PRD represented by a now severely discredited and unpopular Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who placed second in 2006), the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto, former governor of the state of Mexico, is the runaway favourite. The likely victory of the PRI is unlikely to usher in a return to the pre-1990s era of quasi single-party rule by the PRI, but the change in power in Mexico twelve years after the PAN toppled the PRI is likely to have significant effects, especially when it comes to the drug cartel wars which have crippled Mexico in recent years.
Venezuela: Venezuela’s controversial President Hugo Chávez will be seeking a third term in office on October 7, 2012 roughly two years after the Chavist party, the PSUV, barely won the 2010 legislative elections against a united opposition front. In 2011, Chávez was hospitalized in Cuba with colon cancer and there have been some doubts about Chávez’s health. He has shown absolutely no signs of relinquishing office in 2012, and will probably enter the 2012 election as the favourite but the opposition will likely mount a more challenging opposition than Manuel Rosales had manged to do in 2006.
France: France holds presidential elections in April and May, followed by legislative elections in June (which will be less interesting, as they confirm the results of the presidential ballot). President Nicolas Sarkozy, now only four months out from the presidential election, is lower than any incumbent president seeking reelection since 1981 has ever been. His approval ratings remain terrible, his support at an anemic 25% in the first round and a disastrous 40-43% in the runoff against the PS’ François Hollande. But Sarkozy is a formidable campaigner, and despite the increasing factionalization of his party, the UMP, retains a strong electoral machine. Similarly, Hollande’s post-primary momentum has been eliminated as questions arise about his ability to be a strong leader and his competence on budgetary matters or foreign affairs. The left has been out of power since 2002 and last won a presidential election in 1988 with François Mitterrand. The popular mood is very much one of discontent and disillusion with the two main contenders, who nonetheless top the polls. But can this state of affairs, not too dissimilar from the one which existed in 2002, be twisted to the advantage of either Marine Le Pen, the far-right’s candidate who remains a threat to the two main contenders with her 16% support; or the centrist François Bayrou, looking surprisingly strong?
The legislative elections will likely confirm the presidential election. If Hollande wins, as polls still say he is in good shape to, the left would likely win a large majority (a vague rose) in Parliament. If Sarkozy wins, the right would still be favoured to win a majority for political stability’s sake but the conditions of a potential Sarkozy reelection will be quite unlike the euphoric hope which accompanied his 2007 victory. On the left, the PS’ increasingly picky Green allies (EELV) achieved their goal of extracting 15-25 winnable constituencies from the big boss, but at the cost of a thunderstorm which has crippled their presidential candidate, Eva Joly and to the displeasure of many Socialists – including several incumbent PS members who got tossed to the side in favour of Green candidates backed by the PS such as Green leader Cécile Duflot in Paris-6. On the right, the waters are just as turbulent which a factional storm centered in Paris-2, opposing Prime Minister François Fillon and MEP Rachida Dati. Finally, an element which is rarely mentioned, but which promises to be rather important: the strength of the FN and the risk of the FN’s strong showings in its strongholds either eliminating the right or left outright or recreating 1997’s triangulaires de la mort for the right. These will be the first elections since 1988 fought on new constituency boundaries, and there will be 11 new seats reserved for French citizens living abroad.
Belgium: Belgium, 541 days after federal elections in the summer of 2010, finally got a formal government in December 2011. This government is led by the Francophone Socialist Elio di Rupo and unites Socialists, Liberals and Christian democrats on both sides of Belgium’s linguistic border between Flanders and Wallonia. But this coalition is heavily Walloon in its support base, because it excludes the Flemish nationalist N-VA, which is the largest party in Parliament and in Flanders (it won 28% in Flanders in 2010). Municipal and provincial elections will be held on October 14. The federal government will be tested at the polls, especially in Flanders where the N-VA’s performance will be one of the most important things to watch out for. A poor showing by the governing parties, especially in Flanders, might hinder its legitimacy and its ability to re-unite the two linguistic communities following the protracted political crisis of 2010 and 2011.
Greece: At the centre of the Eurozone debt crisis and one of the countries hit the most severely by the economic crisis, Greece will likely hold snap elections by the end of February 2012. The incumbent government is a technical government led by an independent, Lucas Papademos and including members of George Papandreou’s PASOK, the opposition conservative ND and the far-right LAOS. It will be interesting to observe the electoral ramifications of the Greek crisis, which Papandreou and now Papademos’ governments have responded to with EU and IMF-imposed severe austerity medicine which Greek voters find extremely bitter and try to spit out at any occasion. The next elections are unlikely to provide stability around PASOK and ND, because both of Greece’s main parties are failing to “catch fire” with voters. ND stands at 30% support (33.5% in 2009), while PASOK has collapsed to 15-19% support (it won 44% in 2009). The main beneficiaries happen to be parties which are unlikely to be as supportive of austerity: the socialist SYRIZA, the quasi-Stalinist KKE and SYRIZA splinter DIMAR. LAOS stands to gain, but its support has already weakened after it entered government. Together, the fractious Greek left (SYRIZA and KKE, who hate each other with a passion) would be the largest force, but even divided it could prevent the formation of a government along the lines of PASOK, ND and LAOS.
Croatia: Croatia is likely to become the 28th member of the European Union, but the country’s accession to the EU requires popular approval in a referendum likely to be held as quickly as January 2012. Voters have shown themselves very supportive of accession to the EU, with a few slips in support most recently in April, but could the Eurozone crisis and the EU’s weakness in the debt crisis cool the European apatite of Croatian voters? If Croatia turns down EU membership, it would the first time such a thing has happened and would be a severe blow to the EU and Croatia’s new government.
Slovakia: Snap elections will take place in Slovakia in March 2012. The unsteady right-wing coalition government led by Prime Minister Iveta Radičová fell in October following her government’s defeat on a confidence vote expanding the European Financial Stability Fund. The government’s defeat on the first round of the EFSF was caused by the defection of her junior partner, Richard Sulík’s liberal SaS but also by a well maneuvered political ploy by Socialist leader Robert Fico whose party, Smer, abstained on the first round and came around to support the EFSF in a second round in return for snap elections in which Fico’s Smer, which won 35% in 2010 (but failed to hold its majority after its allies were defeated), is the favourite. Robert Fico’s government, shunned from European left-wing circles after his 2006 alliance with the far-right SNS, was known for its nationalism and his confrontational relations with Hungary. If he returns to power in March, he will govern alongside an Hungarian government led by Viktor Orbán which is both nationalist and worryingly authoritarian.
Serbia: Serbia will vote for parliamentary elections between now and May 2012, in the context of a political scene turned on its head by the collapse of the far-right Radicals (SRS) who had won 29.5% in 2008. The far-right nationalist and anti-European SRS, led in exile by suspected war criminal Vojislav Šešelj, split in late 2008 when the moderate faction led by the SRS’ defacto leader, Tomislav Nikolić, who is more moderate and pro-European than Šešelj, formed the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). In the midst of economic troubles, Mirko Cvetković’s pro-European centre-left coalition centered around President Boris Tadić’s left-wing DS, is showing signs of strains and narrowly trails the SNS while support for the SRS has collapsed to 7%.
Romania: Legislative elections will be held in Romania in November, the first elections since right-wing President Traian Băsescu’s so-narrow reelection to the presidency in 2009. Prime Minister Emil Boc’s minority government, composed of Băsescu’s right-wing PD-L and the Hungarian UDMR, faces a united opposition, made up of the Social Democrats (PSD) and the National Liberals (PNL) running together as the “Social Liberal Union” (USL) and led by the PSD’s Victor Ponta. I have not found any polls concerning the public opinion in Romania and its evolution since 2009.
Ukraine: Parliamentary elections will be held in Ukraine in October 2012. These are the first legislative elections since 2007, and the second elections (following locals in 2010) for Viktor Yanukovych, in office since 2010. These elections will take place under a new electoral law which bans electoral coalitions and replaces full PR with 50-50 MMP. President Viktor Yanukovych, generally perceived as pro-Russian, has been in office since early 2010. He has been accused by opponents of trying to create a “controlled democracy” by limiting civil liberties and persecuting political opponents, most significantly his main rival and former pro-European Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, now in jail on accounts of corruption, abuse of office and tax evasion. Tymoshenko’s sentencing frosted fragile relations between Yanukovych’s government and the EU. In the last polls, marked by a lack of enthusiasm for any party, Tymoshenko’s party narrowly outpaces Yanukovych’s PR, which did very well in the 2010 local elections. While former President Viktor Yushchenko’s party has predictably collapsed, there are unstable new forces including former Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s Front for Change and the ultra-nationalist anti-Russian Svoboda which did well in western Ukraine in the 2010 local elections. These elections will be important for their effects on Yanukovych’s presidency and on Ukraine’s place between the EU and Russia.
Russia: In a game of musical chairs, current Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin wants to return to the presidency while exchanging his office of Prime Minister with current President Dmitry Medvedev. However, the aftermath of the rigged parliamentary elections in December 2011 was marked by large anti-Putin demonstrations which have shown the increasing shakiness of Vladimir Putin’s state apparatus in Russia. Putin will not lose on March 4, 2012 (though they might make him go to a runoff), especially given that his opposition once again consists mostly of old Stalinist Gennady Zyuganov and stand-up comedian Vladimir Zhirinovsky sprinkled with a discredited Western liberal and a former Kremlin ally who is rarely taken as a serious opponent. Rather, what makes the 2012 elections worth following is more its immediate impact (any protests?) and its long-term effects on Russia and the stability of the Putin apparatus.
Africa and the Middle East
Libya: The overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi after 42 years in power will be, in retrospect, one of the marking moments of 2011. Few people had predicted that Gaddafi’s regime, which had ruled Libya since 1969 with little apparent opposition, would in the spread of less than a year succumb to a civil war started as an unorganized protest movement in Benghazi and which would culminate not that long after that in the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime in Tripoli and Sirte with NATO air support, and eventually Gaddafi’s own death at the hands of the rebels. Under his personalist and erratic rule, Gaddafi had done away with elections, political parties (in fact, parties have been banned in Libya since 1952) and with traditional legislative institutions. As such, he left the country without any structured political institutions (unlike in Egypt and Tunisia) and with no organized political forces that we know of (unlike, again, in Egypt and Tunisia where the old regimes were backed by parties and traditional legislatures). As such, we know little of the potential political forces which will emerge in the first elections (by June 2012, says the NTC). There is likely an Islamist current in Libya, and it is already well represented in the NTC, but we cannot speak of a party similar to the MB or Ennahda already structured on the ground. It will be fascinating to follow the political evolution and democratic transition in Libya, as well as the first elections in Libya since 1965. Frankly, the Libyan elections are probably what is exciting me the most about 2012.
Egypt: Following the conclusion in January of the legislative elections and the three-stage election of the consultative upper house or Shura Council, political attention in Egypt is scheduled to shift to presidential elections expected by July 2012. This all depends on what happens between now and then, especially in the context of continuing bloody protests against the interim military government (SCAF) which is looking more and more to assert its political power and hold on to the reins for as long as possible, especially as they worry about the Islamist performance (especially that of the Salafists) in the elections thus far. The favourite for the presidency remains former Arab League boss Amr Moussa, not too well perceived in western circles for his close ties to the old NDP and his more anti-Israel policy, but very popular in Egypt for his stance on Israel. He seems to be the preferred choice of the conservatives over former IAEA boss Mohamed El Baradei, more closely tied to the young revolutionary liberal-secular sectors. El Baradei’s constituency, however, has barely been registering in polls.
Senegal: Senegal has had only three Presidents since independence, but is generally regarded as much less authoritarian and much more stable than its other West African neighbors. In 2000, long time opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade defeated incumbent President Abdou Diouf and was reelected, not without controversy in 2007. There is mounting concern in Senegal and abroad that Wade, accused of corruption, nepotism and limiting civil liberties, is trying to establish an authoritarian regime. He has already broken the constitution by running for a third time (claiming the constitution, passed in 2001, allows him to run again). There has been some protests to his candidacy, and the aftermath of his practically certain reelection will be interesting to follow.
Kenya: Kenya’s last presidential election in 2007 had been followed by ethnic violence between the supporters of President Mwai Kibaki and his opponent, now Prime Minister in a national unity government, Raila Odinga. Under a new constitution which necessitates a runoff if no candidates win an absolute majority (or if the winner’s support is too heavily concentrated in certain counties), Raila Odinga is the favourite for an election due before December 2012. His main opponent seems to be Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, a member of President Kibaki’s PNU party. We can hope that these elections will not lead to ethnic violence as in 2007.
Madagascar: The Malagasy political crisis which began in 2009 with the ouster of President Marc Ravalomanana by the military and current President Andry Rajoelina. Ravalomanana has since been in exile, but the political situation has been unresolved and elections often delayed since 2009. They are now planned for May 2012, following a deal signed in September with Ravalomanana’s supporters, a deal which allows Ravalomanana to return (but the state says they’ll arrest him if he does) and participate in the transitional process.
Asia and Oceania
India (7 states including Uttar Pradesh): State elections will be held in Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The elections in Gujarat and Punjab will be major races, but the most important election is perhaps Uttar Pradesh (UP) with its 200 million people which makes it the most populous subnational entity in the world and potentially the fifth most populous “country” in the world. Since 2007, UP has been governed by Mayawati and her BSP, a left-wing party claiming to represent the lowest castes in Indian society as well as minorities such as Muslims. The BSP won an absolute majority in 2007, with 206 seats, easily defeating the main opposition in the state, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP). In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BSP had not done as well as expected against the SP, which might (or might not) spell trouble for Mayawati, whose wealth has opened her to accusations of corruption.
Taiwan (Republic of China): The elections in Taiwan/Republic of China on January 14 will be the first major election of 2012. In 2008, the election of Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT) ushered in a more conciliatory policy towards mainland China after years of tension under the rule of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which supports Taiwanese independence. Ma Ying-jeou’s presidency have brought tensions between the two Chinas to their lowest point in decades and forged business deals with mainland China which helped keep Taiwan afloat during the economic crisis. He had won a landslide in 2008 largely because the incumbent DPP President, Chen Shui-bian, was accused of corruption (he is now in jail). The 2012 race, in which he faces the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the DPP and a former Vice Premier, is promising to be much closer. Ma’s recent pronouncement in favour of a peace treaty with the mainland was a bombshell but did not help him much in a China-wary electorate. He is now basically neck-and-neck with Tsai, who has run a campaign focused on social policies. Prediction markets have even had Tsai well ahead of Ma for quite a while now. Ma is weakened by the candidacy of James Soong, an old KMT dissident who, as in 2000, threatens to split the pro-China vote and hand the election to the DPP. He could pull between 5% and 10% support, likely all support which would go to Ma in a two-way race which won’t happen.
South Korea: Presidential elections will be held in South Korea in December 2012. The election marks the end of President Lee Myung-bak’s term, which began in 2007. Lee, who hails from the right-wing GNP, is particularly pro-American but has seen his support at home waver in part because of economic policies which are perceived as favouring the wealthy over the underprevileged. The favourite thus far is the GNP’s Park Geun-hye, who had lost to Lee running as a GNP dissident in 2007 and is the daughter of former authoritarian President Park Chung-hee, who ruled between 1963 and 1979. However, the independent candidacy of Ahn Cheol-Soo, a businessman and professor, seems to be gathering steam. The GNP received a major blow when its candidate lost the Seoul mayoral by-election (Lee had been mayor of Seoul prior to becoming President) to an independent, Park Won-soon, who was backed by Ahn.
That makes for a brief run through of what to look forward to in 2012. I’ve likely omitted a few elections which will turn out to be important and generally sidelined municipal elections and the like, perhaps for no good reason in fact. On that note, thank you for continuing to follow World Elections in 2011, and Happy New Year 2012 in a world full of fascinating electoral contests to follow.