What’s hot in 2013
Another year over, opening the door to another year of (hopefully) exciting and significant elections around the world. As in the past two years, to set the stage for the next twelve months, I preview the most important elections to look forward to in 2013. As in past years, there will be some snap elections which we will not have seen coming, and other elections which will turn out to be less important or interesting than originally assumed. In the coming months, you can expect almost every single one of these elections to be covered in some level of detail on this blog.
Canada (BC, Nova Scotia, federal Liberal leadership): No federal elections in Canada this year, but the stage will be set for the 2015 federal election with the election of a new leader for the Liberal Party, Canada’s traditional governing party which collapsed to third place in the last election. Federal Liberals will finally be electing a permanent leader in April. The runaway favourite is Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Justin Trudeau is seen by most Liberals as the solution to all their woes, and the promise for a quick return to official opposition or even government in 2015. His candidacy is naturally buoyed by strings of ‘Trudeau polling’ which show the federal Liberals, led by Trudeau, in first place ahead of Prime Minister Harper’s Tories and Thomas Mulcair’s NDP. If Trudeau prevails as expected, it remains to be seen if this honeymoon with Canadians will last and if he will be able to salvage the Liberal vessel from capsizing. In the provinces, British Columbia and Nova Scotia will vote in 2013, and in both cases the incumbent governments – Christy Clark’s Liberals and Darrell Dexter’s NDP respectively – face an uphill challenge to win reelection. Both of their parties are currently down in the polls, with the official opposition parties (BC NDP, NS Liberals) holding the advantage. Most also assume that there will be a provincial election in Ontario, after the governing Liberals elect – on January 26 – a successor to retiring Premier Dalton McGuinty. A new Liberal Premier might alter the playing field considerably, but as of now they remain in a precarious position though with polls still indicating a close three-way contest with the PCs and NDP, they would have a chance at holding power.
Ecuador: President Rafael Correa, a prominent left-wing populist aligned with Chávez, the Castros and Morales, will almost certainly win another term in office on February. Correa, who like Chávez has created wide-reaching social programs with oil money, remains very popular in Ecuador. Correa is an ambitious figure whose political career is still fairly young. Progressively, he has built up his own stature and image on the world stage – recently with the Julian Assange asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London – and he is clearly aiming to replace Chávez and take the leadership of the South American left/ALBA. His main rival this year is Guillermo Lasso, a right-wing businessman. He also faces two perennial opponents; former President Lucio Gutiérrez (elected on the left, governed on the right between 2003 and 2005), an indigenous Ecuadorian; and Alvaro Noboa, a wealthy right-wing tycoon who lost the 2006 runoff election to Correa.
Paraguay: After nearly a year of political uncertainty following the controversial impeachment of President Fernando Lugo in June 2012, Paraguay will hold general elections on April 21. Lugo, the first leftist President in the country’s history, was impeached by Congress in June 2012 – in a controversial move denounced as a coup by Lugo and Paraguay’s main neighbors – and replaced with Vice President Federico Franco. Ineligible to run for office himself this year, Franco proved surprisingly successful and efficient despite the odds – in contrast to Lugo, who was seen by most as ineffectual. Already, Franco made progress on agrarian reform, expanding education in rural areas and won passage of the country’s first income tax. However, it is uncertain if Franco’s Liberal Party (PLRA) will hold the presidency. The favourite is Horacio Cortes, a wealthy businessman and the candidate of the right-wing Colorado Party, which ruled the country between 1948 and 2008. The left is divided between two candidates, while controversial populist General Lino Oviedo, a former strongman who almost staged a coup in the 90s, is running again (he placed third in 2008).
Chile: The first round of presidential elections will be held in Chile in 2013. President Sebastián Piñera, the first centre-right president since Pinochet’s regime fell, cannot run again. He leaves office rather unpopular, rattled by big student protests and unpopular decisions. Fancying a return to power, the heterogeneous centre-left Concertación, unwilling to confront its internal problems, has been playing a game of wait-and-see until former President Michelle Bachelet (PS), Piñera’s predecessor who left office with sky-high approval ratings, decides whether or not she wants to run for another term. Bachelet remains very popular and would be the favourite to return to power. If she does not run, the opposition does have other fairly strong candidates but no clear frontrunners. On the right, public works (former mines and energy) minister Laurence Golborne – an independent who became very popular following the rescue of the 33 miners trapped underground in August 2010 – would be the strongest candidate for the governing centre-right coalition, though still at a deficit against Bachelet.
Venezuela (potential): Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was reelected in October 2012, but his cancer returned in December and he has since been out of the country for treatment in Cuba. Few details are leaked of his actual condition, but Chávez appears to be in bad shape. He was unable to return home for his scheduled inauguration on January 10, an inauguration which has been controversially delayed. It is unsure whether Chávez will ever be able to return home. If Chávez was to die this year, new presidential elections would be held within 30 days of his death. The present situation has created a constitutional crisis, with the opposition claiming that Chávez has not been inaugurated, hence his anointed successor, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, has no constitutional right to take power temporarily if he was to die. The constitution says that if there was an ‘absolute absence’ of a president-elect (who is not inaugurated), the president of the National Assembly (in this case Diosdado Cabello) would become the interim president until elections are held within 30 days. The most likely scenario in the event of Chávez’s death in 2013 would be that Nicolás Maduro becomes interim President and elections are held within 30 days. Chávez appointed Nicolás Maduro, his foreign minister who is well regarded in Havana, as his successor (Vice President) in October, sidelining Diosdado Cabello, the president of the legislature who is well connected to the military. By officially placing Maduro as his heir, Chávez might have prevented a succession crisis. Cabello insists that he stands behind Maduro, though the opposition claims there is still an internal power struggle between the two men.
In the case of a snap election, Maduro would be the favourite and benefit from the very short campaign. The opposition’s frontrunner would likely be Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda who lost to Chávez in October but ran a tough and spirited campaign. However, the opposition lost badly in regional elections back in December (though Capriles won reelection in Miranda) and Maduro would likely benefit from a wave of sympathy for the late President, who is still quite popular with most Venezuelans. Undoubtedly, Chávez’s death would mark the end of an era in Venezuela. The various factions (including the military) which he had held together might disintegrate into a power struggle, while the genuine popular appeal of chavismo might fall apart under a less charismatic figure like Maduro. Simply put, can chavismo survive without Chávez?
Italy: Undoubtedly, the Italian general election on February 24-25 will be one of the most important and significant elections of 2013. As local and regional elections in 2012 hinted at, Berlusconi’s resignation in November 2011 has triggered the start of a major realignment in Italian politics, comparable to the last major upheaval in Italian politics in 1994. The left-wing opposition, dominated by the rather heterogeneous and often hapless Democratic Party (PD), remains the favourite in these elections. The PD’s coalition includes Nichi Vendola’s left-wing Left Ecology and Freedom (SEL). Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the PD, emerged victorious in a left-wing primary in November-December, defeating the young mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, who had run on a more centrist and ‘outsider’ platform. If the PD-led coalition wins in February, it is guaranteed a majority in the lower house because of the national majority bonus, but it is unclear whether it would have a majority in the Senate, where the bonus operates at the regional level.
Silvio Berlusconi is attempting yet another political comeback after his reinvention as a populist, who criticizes Angela Merkel, the EU and austerity. Berlusconi is finally running, after coming in and out of retirement so many times over the past few months, but he is not running to be Prime Minister – or so he claims. Berlusconi has managed to forge a coalition with his party, the PdL, but also the Lega Nord – which has opposed Monti’s cabinet (while the PdL had been forced to back it until December) and has been through a tough spell after corruption allegations forced its historic leader, Umberto Bossi, to resign. Relations between Berlusconi and the LN had turned sour, but both parties seem to agree that the writing is on the wall for them. Berlusconi may be running again, but he is on his way out. His departure from the political scene, which may not come as quickly as some think but which will ultimately come, will usher in a major realignment on the right, which since 1994 had been structured around his unique personality.
Realizing this fact, the centre/centre-right has sought, since 2010 or so, to take the leadership of the post-Berlusconian right in Italy. The creation of a ‘Third Pole’ around Casini’s UDC and Gianfranco Fini’s FLI (created in 2010 from a split in the PdL led by Fini, the former leader of the post-fascist AN and a former ally of Berlusconi) in 2010-2011 went nowhere. These parties were the strongest supporters of Mario Monti’s government since 2011, and had attempted to get Monti himself to run in an election as their leader. Finally, after the PdL withdrew its support and forced Monti to resign last month, Monti agreed to the idea and he will now lead the centre-right coalition, on a pro-European and pro-austerity ‘Monti agenda’ which is backed by the Catholic Church and the European centre-right (notably Merkel). Monti claims he is a liberal reformer, beyond left and right, but his clear goal – and that of his partisan allies – is to recreate the First Republic’s DC.
This interesting election is made all the more interesting and uncertain with the presence of Beppe Grillo, a former comedian who is now the leader of the M5S. The M5S is a populist, militantly anti-system and anti-establishment party which attacks austerity, taxes, the corruption and moral bankruptcy of the Italian political class and the political system. It grew quickly in 2012, largely on the ruins of the PdL and the Lega, and even if it is not polling as high as before, it remains likely to win over 10% and have a major impact on Italian politics. The 2013 elections in Italy, 19 years after the ultimate collapse of the First Republic, might see the collapse of the Second Republic and the dawn of a new political system dramatically different from the old.
Germany: Federal elections will be held in Germany in September. Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to remain in power, but it is extremely unlikely that she will be able to renew her coalition with the liberal FDP. Merkel herself is very popular, and some of that popularity has worn off on her party, the CDU. Her position is strengthened by Germany’s relatively good economic performance in the context of a continent in crisis, and many Germans credit her for keeping Germany in the clear during the crisis. However, the liberal FDP’s stint in cabinet since the 2009 federal election has been disastrous for the party, which has seen its popularity plummet because of poor leaders, scandals and unpopular decisions by its government ministers. The FDP is now fighting to clear the 5% threshold to retain its seats in the Bundestag, with polls consistently showing the FDP – which won 14.6% in 2009 – at 2-4% in polls. On the left, the Social Democrats (SPD) are doing only marginally better than in 2009 – a disaster for them – and they will not be helped by their chancellor-candidate, Peer Steinbrück, who has already shown that he suffers from an acute case of foot-in-mouth disease. The Greens are polling better than what they won in 2009, though they have come down to earth after their 2010-2011 surge to unprecedented heights. The SPD-Greens, along with the Left Party, do not appear to have sufficient support to form a left-wing coalition after September. Late 2011-2012 in German politics was marked by the Pirate wave, which saw the Pirate Party surge to over 10% nationally. This bizarre surge has since fallen back, the Pirates are unlikely to enter the Bundestag in September. The most likely option remains a new Grand Coalition between Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the SPD, or a black-green (CDU/Green) coalition; in both cases the CDU would be by far the strongest partner, it could possibly win over 40% in September.
Austria: Federal elections will also be held in Austria by September. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition is, for a change, rather unpopular, but it could remain in power after these elections. For some time early last year, it appeared as if Heinz-Christian Strache’s FPÖ could win the elections, fresh from his success in state elections in Vienna in 2011. However, the FPÖ has been badly hurt by controversies and major corruption scandals, which have brought them down to the low 20s at best. Part of the story in these elections will be a new party, Team Stronach, a populist right-wing party led by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach (the father of a former Canadian Liberal MP) which is just getting off the ground. Benefiting from its novelty and its populist right-wing platform (anti-euro, flat tax but not anti-immigration), the party is in a strong position to benefit from the FPÖ’s recent troubles and the collapse of the late Jorg Haider’s BZÖ (which will likely lose all seats this year). The Greens should also do well. State election in Haider and the far-right’s backyard, Carinthia, in March will prove interesting as while. Following Haider’s death, the state and federal BZÖ split, with governor Gerhard Dörfler and the state BZÖ aligning with Strache’s federal FPÖ (under the name FPK) while the federal BZÖ took a new right-liberal course. Dörfler’s administration and other parties in the state have been tarred by a major corruption case, this might help the Greens and Stronach’s party.
Norway: September, again, will prove busy in Europe: Norway will hold legislative elections on September 9. As things stand, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s left-wing coalition led by the Labour Party (Ap) will likely be defeated by the disparate right, in opposition since 2005. Stoltenberg’s popularity boomed in 2011 right after the tragic Utøya attacks, but the government has since become very unpopular because of alleged inefficiency, blunders and scandals. Last fall, a parliamentary report about the Utøya attacks concluded that Anders Breivik could have been stopped from carrying out the massacre. The government’s unpopularity has particularly hurt Ap’s two smaller coalition partners, the agrarian Centre (Sp) and the Socialist Left (SV) – the latter could now fall below the 4% threshold and be left with only a single seat. The opposition parties have a 20 point lead over the governing coalition, and would win a very substantial majority. The formation of a right-wing government is made easier by the strong standing of the Conservative Party (H), which is outpolling the Ap and consistently polling over 30%. In contrast, Siv Jensen’s right-populist/far-right Progress Party (Frp), hurt by a sex scandal and Utøya in 2011, is now a distant second on the right (unlike in 2009 when it was the strongest right-wing party) and is polling roughly 17%, down from 23% in 2009. Frp supported without participating in the last right-wing coalition between 2001 and 2005, but the Frp now says that it would not support a government in which it does not participate. Two smaller members of the opposition bloc, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, are hostile to Frp’s cabinet participation although H is more amenable to it. It remains to be seen, if the right wins in September, whether or not Frp will be allowed to participate in a governing coalition and, if not, if the Conservatives and their smaller moderate allies can govern with Frp’s external backing.
Middle East and Africa
Israel: Knesset elections will be held on January 22 in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will quite certainly emerge victorious, boosted by his party’s electoral alliance with Avigdor Lieberman’s hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu party. The centrist and left-wing opposition to the dominant right remains, as ever, divided and fractured between various party. Labor, led by Shelly Yachimovich, will make some solid gains and likely place second, benefiting from the 2011 social justice protests. Kadima, the centrist party founded by Ariel Sharon in 2006, now led by Shaul Mofaz, will probably lose all its seat (21 as of dissolution). Mofaz defeated Kadima leader Tzipi Livni in a primary in 2012, and Livni has now started her own party (The Movement), which has received the backing of former Labor leader Amir Peretz. It could win upwards of 10 seats. Another centrist secular party, Yesh Atid, led by journalist Yair Lapid, will likely win around 10 seats as well. Facing such a divided opposition, Netanyahu will win and will remain as Prime Minister, probably under a new coalition which is either oriented towards the centre or towards the right and religious parties. Netanyahu’s result, however, may end up slightly underwhelming. The main winner, in fact, could be the far-right Jewish Home/National Union, two parties which are extremely hawkish and the most supportive of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Led by the charismatic self-made businessman Naftali Bennett, the two parties – which have managed to transcend some of the religious cleavages which have divided the far-right in Israel – could win, give or take, 15 seats (they hold 5 as of dissolution). Israeli public opinion remains firmly on the right, though with contradictory views: most support a two-state solution and the expansion of Israeli settlements.
Kenya: General elections will be held in Kenya on March 3, notably to elect a successor to President Mwai Kibaki, who has held office since December 2002. The last elections in Kenya, in 2007, resulted in an outburst of ethnically charged violence after Kibaki’s rival, Raila Odinga, refused to recognize his narrow (official) defeat. The violence, which notably opposed Kibaki’s ethnic Kikuyu to Odinga’s Luo supporters, killed over 1,500 and displaced over 300k people. A tense compromise was found whereby Odinga would serve as Prime Minister under Kibaki. A new constitution adopted in 2010 changed the electoral system and created a upper house. The President will now be elected in a two-round election. Odinga is running again, and would seem to be the early favourite. Recent polling, however, has hinted that Uhuru Kenyatta – the son of the country’s first President and a Kikuyu – has made gains. Kenyatta’s victory could turn Kenya into an international pariah state, given that both he and his running-mate (William Ruto) have been indicted for inciting violence following the 2007 election. The eventual winner will face the heavy task of preventing another descent into ethnic violence.
Zimbabwe: Will there be presidential elections in Zimbabwe this year? The consensus seems to be that there will be general elections on March 31, and Zimbabwe’s longtime strongman, President Robert Mugabe, will run for another five-year term. However, a constitution which was supposed to be ready in time for the elections is being held up and the process is stalled. In the 2008 elections, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC) actually beat Mugabe in the first round but then withdrew from the runoff on the grounds that it would not be fre and fair. Following the election, the regional community imposed a power-sharing national unity government between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC. The influx of foreign aid following the deal and the adoption of the US dollar significantly improved the country’s economic situation. But Mugabe does not care much for power-sharing and openly seeks to rid himself of the MDC as soon as possible. The MDC likes the new constitution, but the ZANU-PF would prefer to fight this election under the old one, which affords it much more leeway to control the election’s outcome. The result of the next election and its impact on Zimbabwe’s political situation (which is also marked by the question of Mugabe’s eventual succession) is quite uncertain. Polls indicate that the ZANU-PF might have regained popularity recently and Mugabe remains in a good position to defeat Tsvangirai, although Tsvangirai remains popular.
Egypt: Egypt’s post-revolutionary future will take another step in April 2013 with new legislative elections. The legislature elected in 2011-2012 was dissolved by the courts in June 2012, which ruled that the elections had been unconstitutional and one-third of seats were filled ‘illegitimately’. This decision was followed by a presidential election in which Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Islamist/Muslim Brotherhood (MB)’s party (FJP), was victorious. In December, a new constitution controversial for its religious content and concessions to the military, was approved in a low-turnout referendum. Morsi’s decision to grab more powers for his presidential office was met with renewed violence and demonstrations by opponents, largely secular liberals, in Cairo. This chain of events has forced the secular opposition to unite, under the auspices of a National Salvation Front led by Mohammed El-Baradei and Amr Moussa. However, the opposition remains divided between these secular liberals and the felools, supporters of Hosni Mubarak’s old regime. The felools, who, with Mubarak’s former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik had placed second behind Morsi in the presidential race, have formed their own coalition and will probably find stronger support than they had in the first general elections in 2011-2012. Morsi’s governing FJP, the MB’s party, won a solid plurality in the general elections in 2011-2012, but their popularity has declined since then, rendering the outcome of this election more uncertain. The performance of the very conservative Salafists, whose Al-Nour Party had placed second in 2011-2012, will also be worth tracking.
Tunisia: Direct presidential and parliamentary elections are due to be held in June in Tunisia, following the ratification of a new constitution in February. In contrast to Egypt, the constitutional process has been less controversial and less acrimonious. The governing coalition, led by the Islamist Ennahda Party, is conciliatory and accommodating in its relations with its secular junior partners and has steered clear of religious controversy in the constitution. Tunisia still faces major economic and fiscal problems, and issues such as youth unemployment persist. These problems have weakened Ennahda, which won 37% in the October 2011 constituent elections, polls now show it slightly weaker. In the presidential election, polls have indicated a close race. Béji Caïd Essebsi, the interim Prime Minister after Ben Ali’s fall, is narrowly ahead. Essebsi has created a strong opposition party, the(Call of Tunisia which includes secular liberals, leftists and former Ben Ali supporters. Incumbent President Moncef Marzouki, the leader of the secular CPR, trails, as does Prime Minister Hamdi Jebbali (Ennahda).
Lebanon: General elections are due to be held before July in Lebanon. Lebanese politics are extremely complex and I won’t pretend that I can even begin to fully understand them, luckily this old post on another blog provides a good base. When that post was written, a fractious and ineffective pro-western and anti-Syrian coalition led by Saad Hariri had been chased out of office by the opposition, which installed Najib Mikati as Prime Minister. Hariri, the son of a prominent anti-Syrian Sunni politician assasinated in 2005 (leading to a mass anti-Syrian movement which forced Syria’s military to leave Lebanon), led the March 14 Alliance – a fractious and fragile alliance of Sunni and Christian (often hardline Christian) parties. Mikati’s governing coalition, styled the March 8 Alliance is an equally fragile multiconfessional alliance of Christian parties (Michel Aoun’s FPM) and Shiite parties, most notably Hezbollah, the militia-party branded as a terrorist organization by the west and Israel and which enjoys close ties with Syria and Iran. Hezbollah holds 12 seats in Lebanon’s 128 seat Parliament. Since 2011, Lebanese politics have been influenced by the civil war next door in Syria. Lebanon has feared that the violence in Syria would spill across the border, and to a certain extent it has. In October 2012, a senior policeman known for his opposition to the Syrian regime, was killed in Beirut. The March 14 bloc blamed Syria and Hezbollah for the attack. The upcoming elections will likely be influenced by the bloody conflict in Syria and its impact on Lebanon. Lebanese politics are still heavily marked by sectarianism, but voting outside of sectarian boundaries is increasingly common. In addition to a highly diverse and fractious array of parties who may abandon alliances very quickly, this renders the outcome of the upcoming election quite uncertain.
Pakistan: General elections will be held before March in Pakistan. Pakistan has been in a democratic transition since the 2008 elections, and the subsequent resignation of military ruler Pervez Musharraf. There seems to have been laudable progress towards democratization since then, notably with the 18th amendment in 2010 which significantly strengthened the parliament and the Prime Minister’s powers over those of the President. However, the democratization process remains quite fragile and very messy, with the state/legislators, the activist judiciary and the military all tussling for power. In June, the activist courts ousted Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani after he had refused to write a letter to Swiss authorities to open an investigation into a money laundering case involving his boss and the President, Asif Ali Zardari. The ruling party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) nominated Raja Pervez Ashraf to replace him. The incumbent administration, led by the PPP, is fairly unpopular. Some of the problems faced by the administration have included deeply ingrained corruption, nepotism, feudal politics, terrorism, religious radicalism, political violence (notably in Karachi), floods, a weak economy/stagflation and electricity shortages in Punjab.
The PPP, ostensibly left of centre but primarily the Bhutto/Zardari family party with close ties to the Sindhi landed elite, faces a strong challenge in this election. Its traditional rival is the PML-N, a more conservative party led by Nawaz Sharif and closely linked to the feudal lords of northern Punjab. Sharif is a former Prime Minister who had opposed Musharraf’s rule, and still maintains difficult relations with the powerful military. There is, however, a new figure in these elections – Imran Khan, a former cricket player who has been in politics for some 15 years (but always got humiliated in elections). The leader of the nationalist and vaguely centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Khan has seen his popularity and his party’s membership numbers surge in the past few months. He is anti-corruption, and fairly anti-American – notably in opposition to American drone strikes in the mountains of northwestern Pakistan. The military appears suspicious of him, as do the traditional political elites, but Khan would not have gotten this far without gaining some elite support – he got the support of a few influential landlords, some technocrats and members of the PML-Q (a faction of the PML which supported Musharraf and has been left in a pitiful state since Musharraf’s fall). These elections could mark an important step in Pakistan’s messy transition to democracy, perhaps witnessing a peaceful and orderly transition of power from a democratically elected government to another (it would be a first).
Nepal: The Nepalese monarchy collapsed following street protests in 2006 and was abolished after a Constituent Assembly (CA) was elected in 2008. A ten-year Maoist insurrection between 1996 and 2006 claimed over 16,000 lives, which, combined with the King’s autocratic tendencies, led to the fall of the monarchy. The Maoists, converted to the virtues of liberal democracy, won a majority – but not an absolute majority in the CA back in 2008. They formed government, with their famed leader Prachanda becoming Prime Minister until he resigned in a row with the army and the ceremonial President in 2009. The CA had been tasked with writing up a constitution, and its mandate was originally supposed to end in May 2011 but it extended its mandate until May 2012. At that point, the courts ruled that a fifth extension of its mandate would be unconstitutional, so the CA was dissolved without it having been able to produce a constitution in four years. Originally supposed to be held in November, new elections should be held in April-May this year. In the meantime, Nepal faces a political crisis. The Maoist Prime Minister, Baburam Bhattarai, remains in charge, and so does the ceremonial President, Ram Baran Yadav – who is backed by the opposition parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). In 10 years of bloody conflict, the Maoists made many enemies and many question their true committment to democracy. Their opponents often contend that the Maoists would not hesitate to abandon the CA and take up arms again if things did not go their way. Now, however, the Maoists are actively pushing for new elections. The opposition seems more lukewarm at that prospect, which raises questions about how they would perform in new elections. The President has ceremonial powers, but Yadav has played a political rule – he was one of the main actors in Prachanda’s downfall in 2009 and rumours are that he might be trying to push the Maoist government out now.
One of the blockage points in the CA has been federalism. Nepal is a mosaic of languages, cultures, ethnic groups and castes; and Nepali politics have historically been led by the upper caste elites. Ethnic and linguistic minorities (such as the Madhesi people in the plains bordering India) and the lower castes formed the backbone of the Maoist rebellion and they are now demanding ‘ethnic federalism’. The Maoists, for self-interested reasons, support federalism; though the strongest proponents of ethnic federalism are Madhesi regional parties and other ethnic minority parties. In contrast, the NC and UML – two more elitist parties which formed the moderate left-wing opposition to the monarchy – strongly oppose ethnic federalism.
Iran: Iran, one of the if not the top geopolitical hotspot, holds crucial presidential elections on June 14. The President has considerably less powers than is usually assumed, most important powers are held by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative Islamist first elected in 2005 and reelected in the controversial circumstances we all know of in 2009, may not seek reelection. Following his reelection, Ahmadinejad, who had sought to strengthen his office, was engaged in a backdoor political struggle with Khamenei, who viewed disapprovingly of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to win more powers. Conservatives close to Khamenei won a majority of the seats in legislative elections last year. The election process is tightly controlled by the Supreme Leader and his allies (the Revolutionary Guard and Basij), meaning that candidates who do not fit the regime’s image or are not approved supporters of the Iranian leadership are not able to run. This will likely disqualify a lot of reformists, crushed and persecuted following the 2009 post-election protests. It could also disqualify or seriously hinder conservatives closer to Ahmadinejad. There is no clear favourite on the conservative side, but the main names including Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (a more moderate religious technocrat), parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani (a candidate in 2005), former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati (close to Khamenei), Khamenei loyalist Gholam Ali Haddad Adel and ultraconservative nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. Ahmadinejad’s favourite would be his close confidant Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, but Mashaei is widely disliked by the leadership. There are rumours that the former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, is thinking of running again and has been trying to soften his image with the regime leadership in order to do so. Iran’s next president may not be as powerful as most assume, but this election can have major repercussions for the region and the world.
Malaysia: A general election must be held in Malaysia before June 27, and it appears that Prime Minister Najib Razak will go for an election in March or April. The Barisan Nasional (BN), a coalition of parochial and sectarian racially-based parties led by the Malay nationalist UMNO, has won every election since 1957, often through vote rigging or using its built-in advantages in the Malaysian political system. In the last election, in 2008, however, the BN did historically poorly, losing its two-thirds majority in the legislature, while the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, a rag-tag three party coalition led by UMNO dissident Anwar Ibrahim, did very well. The BN’s 2008 disaster led to a coup and Najib’s accession. Najib styles himself as a modern, progressive reformer who has sought to downplay old ethnic tensions and moved to liberalize the economy and loosen some of the old restrictive security, censorship and university laws. Najib, however, similar to Gordon Brown in the UK, has dithered over calling an election to win a mandate and it now seems like he will pull his government to the last possible date for an election. Najib has strong approval ratings, but the BN government is considerably less popular. It appears as if this will be one of the most closely contested elections in Malaysian history, with an energized opposition within striking distance of power. It must gain another 30 seats, but these will be hard to find – given that many lie off the mainland in Sabah and Sarawak, two oil-rich states which are solid ‘vote reserves’ for the BN (with gerrymandered seats). The BN’s goal will be to win a two-thirds majority. It must pray that Najib’s own personality shines off on his government and the BN, which is not the case today.
Japan: The recent general elections in December 2012 in Japan saw the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by Shinzo Abe, return to power with a crushing two-thirds majority. The very fickle Japanese electorate sought to punish the governing Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had defeated the LDP with a similarly massive mandate in 2009 (after the LDP had ruled since 1955 with one short interruption). A new nationalist party, the Japanese Restoration Party (JRP), almost won as many seats as the annihilated DPJ. Abe’s election could mean some significant changes in the region in the context of Japanese-Chinese tensions over the Senkaku islands. Abe and the LDP are mow hawkish and nationalistic than the DPJ and more likely to adopt a confrontational or assertive position against China. At home, Abe and his finance minister will seek to stimulate growth through public works stimulus spending and pressuring the Central Bank to further loosen monetary policy. Abe faces his first political test on July 11, when a third of the less powerful upper house (House of Councillors) is due to be renewed. The DPJ still holds a bare plurality there, meaning that it too has a lot to lose from these elections after 2012. Abe is still on honeymoon with the voters, but will Japan’s famously fickle voters stick with him until the summer and be amenable to voting for the LDP then? After all, the LDP did not win because voters liked it or its leader (in fact, the LDP’s popular vote was quite bad) but rather because they hated the DPJ. Similarly, how will the DPJ perform a few months after its December obliteration? Finally, how will the new JRP be able to perform? In part, the JRP’s large vote came from unhappy ex-DPJ voters who might now ‘return home’.
Maldives: The political climate in the beautiful collection of atolls in the Indian Ocean has been tense since President Mohamed Nasheed, a human rights activist who had become the first democratic President of the island country in 2008, was forced to resign after protests against his decision to arrest chief justice Abdulla Mohamed (Nasheed said Mohamed had failed to act impartially in cases dealing with criminals). Nasheed was replaced by his former deputy, Mohammed Waheed. Presidential elections will be held in July. Since Nasheed’s resignation, the political climate has been very acrimonious and marked by violence and death threats against legislators or activists. The new government, notably, has been accused of pushing a conservative Islamist agenda after Nasheed had led a surprisingly liberal secular agenda in the religious Muslim nation. Nasheed, who is wanted in court for arresting Mohamed, has claimed that he was removed from office by a coup. He is now running again. There is speculation that Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the country’s former autocratic president for 30 years before his defeat in 2008, will run as well.
Australia: Federal elections must be held in Australia before November 30, and it appears as if Prime Minister Julia Gillard will be going to the polls sometime in the fall. Gillard became Prime Minister in the summer of 2010 following an internal coup within the Labor Party (ALP) which toppled Kevin Rudd, who had led the ALP to victory over Prime Minister John Howard’s centre-right Coalition (including the Liberals and the National Party). She quickly tried to win a mandate on her own terms, but the August 2010 election resulted in a hung parliament with a Green MP and four independent MPs holding the balance of power. Gillard remained in office, striking a deal with the Green and three of the independents. Despite a tense relation with the Greens, this Parliament will have lasted its full term. Gillard has struggled since taking office, with most polls showing the Coalition ahead of the ALP. The optics of coming to office as a result of an internal coup orchestrated by the ALP’s infamous factional bosses did not help matters. The deal with the Green forced her to ‘renege’ on her vow to not introduce a carbon tax (as Rudd had attempted to do), a carbon tax was passed in late 2011. The Coalition pounded on this ‘broken promise’ and it would repeal it once it is elected. The government has also struggled with some scandals involving MPs and other issues.
The opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has been successful in his relentless attacks on the government’s unpopular decisions. A focus on unpopular decisions helped the Coalition defeated ALP governments in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, and Abbott is hoping to do the same this fall. However, the Coalition faces a problem. Abbott is highly unpopular, with dissatisfaction ratings at around 60%; in fact, he is more unpopular than Gillard and trails her on the “best PM” rankings. As the election draws nearer, the ALP have eaten into the Coalition’s support a bit and as the vote keeps getting closer, Abbott’s deficit on the best PM rankings could come back to haunt him. Gillard faces a tough race, but this election is not over yet.
Other important elections in 2013 to keep an eye out for include midterm elections in Argentina and the Philippines, a general election in Honduras, legislative elections in Iceland, Bulgaria and Albania, presidential elections in Georgia and Armenia and a new race for the leadership of the right-wing opposition UMP party in France.
With the major exceptions of Italy, Germany and Australia; there are few major national elections in either western Europe, North America or down under; but there are several interesting elections in geopolitical hotspots (Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan) and key elections in countries which don’t often make headlines in the West (Malaysia, Nepal, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Paraguay). Which elections in 2013 are you looking forward to the most?