15 national elections I’m watching on 2015 and the questions I’m asking about them, organized in chronological order.
Greece: Can modern Greek democracy survive the combined effects of years of extraordinary fiscal mismanagement, a devastating recession, and a sudden day of reckoning (austerity) stage-managed from Berlin? That’s the bigger question the world is asking when Greece heads to the polls this coming weekend, behind narrow questions of what might happen in the next six months. Newcomer “Syriza” – a party with moderate rhetoric, yet still an unknown quantity – has led the polling average since November 2013, more than a year before snap elections were called. Syriza could shake things up — for good or ill — in the country whose ancestors founded much of Western democracy. On the other hand, the ancient Greeks also formalized the concepts of “oligarchy,” “aristocracy,” and “tyranny,” so that’s not a huge comfort. Modern Greek democracy is just 40 years old, and Plato might forecast a turn to a less participatory form of The Kyklos (the cycle of governance between such forms) is about due. The rise of the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” as a potent force in Greek politics offers that grim path.
Nigeria: Should a young democracy re-elect a civilian president from the same party that has won every election since 1998? Should it do so despite his record of extreme incompetence in handling an insurgency that has now seized more territory than ISIS controls in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy? What if the alternative choice is a former military dictator and perennial also-ran? These are the basic questions facing Nigerians in February’s election that will see once-accidental President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party face off against Gen. Muhammadu Buhari at the head of an increasingly powerful opposition coalition and amid plunging oil prices. The legislative chambers are also up for election. Even if Jonathan is re-elected, he may face a hostile majority.
Israel: Can the Israeli left make a serious comeback in the country’s politics after Israel voters increasingly veered to the right and after significant party changes shattered the Labor Party for almost a decade? Would it make any difference to Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the world at large? Would it change the economic fortunes of average Israelis?
United Kingdom: Is the Westminster System — as it has traditionally existed in its tripartite form since the arrival of universal male suffrage — finished in Westminster itself? UKIP, the Scottish National Party, and other parties outside the Big Three make another coalition government of some kind almost a certainty – likely with huge effects for the British populace and their place within the European Union.
Mexico: Will the insulated Federal District finally be shaken out of its slumber by a growing protest movement and other reactions to the total capture of Mexican state and local government by the cartels? The Congress is up for election, but without a sea change in the foreign-focused Peña Nieto administration, few expect serious policy shifts at home, whatever the outcome of the midterms. Still, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition any more than they expect a spontaneous mass uprising that forces just such a sea change. Could be too early to tell.
Turkey: Can PM-turned-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party continue to consolidate its electoral mandate in the assembly (and consolidate power to the presidency instead of the prime minister’s office) in the face of mounting questions about the government’s Syria policy, Kurdish policy, family policies, and general authoritarian trends? Mathematically, even without any authoritarianism, the answer is probably yes. Should they? That’s a trickier question.
Afghanistan: Can Afghanistan successfully hold legislative elections with a significantly scaled-back coalition security footprint? Will the outcome be less messy than the presidential result?
Canada: While it feels like Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister of Canada for about a century at this point, it turns out he has only been in the top job since February 2006. The Canadian left has been too fractured to overcome his weak political position, despite repeated efforts in and between elections. The two big center-left parties have new leaders now, however, and the once-broken Liberals (who finished 3rd last time) may stage a comeback under the son of a former Prime Minister – specifically the longest serving and perhaps most famous of all Canadian Prime Ministers. The big questions for the rest of the world are simple: Will Canadian voters reject the increasingly militarized foreign policy of the Harper Administration and will they seek to reverse Alberta’s hold on the country’s environmental and energy policies? In the end, they may just re-elect him.
Argentina: President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is term-limited out of seeking re-election again and her iconoclastic husband Néstor Kirchner passed away unexpectedly in 2010, ending a grand plan to keep trading the executive office back and forth for four full terms. Their party and their followers (“kirchnerists”) are splintering into multiple camps, in the absence of an actual Kirchner on the ballot. Is Argentina’s Age of Kirchner – and its battles with the international finance system (still recently ongoing) – coming to a close?
Burma: Is the country really transitioning to democracy or is the transition all a façade by the new military-derived leaders to end the country’s devastating isolation?
Spain: Having transitioned to democracy at a similar time as Greece and now facing many of the same challenges vis-à-vis the European Union and eurozone membership, similar questions arise on Spain. All eyes are on Spain’s own newcomer party, Podemos, which promises a much more radical – and perhaps infeasible within the constraints of the EU – agenda from the left. Will they shake up Spain’s politics? Almost certainly. But it remains to be seen whether that will be from the cabinet room or in the opposition against a grand left-right coalition determined to uphold the status quo. The fate of Podemos at the end of 2015 in Spain also likely hinges in large part on how Syriza fares in Greece’s elections at the start – and how the EU reacts if Syriza forms a government.
Other elections to watch…
Thematically organized, not by date
Poland and Estonia: Which will affect Eastern European EU member-state politics more: the military threat of Russia or the economic “threat” of Brussels and Berlin? (Either way, expect to see the nationalist right continue to rise.)
Denmark: Will the far-right continue to be treated as a legitimate and not at all terrifying part of the country’s politics? (Yes.)
Burkina Faso: Is one year too short a span to transition successfully under regional and military supervision from an under-developed pseudo-democracy of a three-decade strongman to a freely-elected president and a functioning civil society? (Almost certainly. But if it does succeed, the consequences could be far-reaching.)
Democratic governance faces pivot points in national elections scheduled in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in 2015. However, amid all the dire news, one bright spot has already shone like a beacon in 2015.
Earlier in January, Sri Lanka unexpectedly voted out its strongman president in early elections that posed some very serious questions to voters, promoting his former health minister instead. He departed the next morning after failing to rally support for a coup. Positive change at the ballot box remains possible.
A condensed (top 5) version of this post appeared in The Globalist.