4 December 2017

Ten Elections to Watch in 2018

To say that many of the most important elections in recent years have dramatically shaken up international affairs and the global economy would be an understatement.  The impact of elections such as 2016’s presidential election in the United States and the British referendum on leaving the European Union continue to reverberate around the world.  These recent elections have highlighted the challenges faced by democracies in the 21st century, challenges exacerbated by changes in communications and growing social, political and cultural differences in most of the world’s leading democracies. 

These changes have led to a new rise in right-wing and left-wing populism, with populists winning, or least greatly influencing, nearly all of the key elections around the world in the past few years.  Moreover, with large blocs of voters feeling disempowered or alienated by the political, economic and demographic changes underway today, elections are becoming ever-more contentious.  As we prepare for a new year of elections in 2018, these trends are likely to continue, and will influence the outcome of many of next year’s most anticipated elections. 

Of the more than 50 national elections that are currently scheduled to take place next year, ten are expected to have the greatest impact on the global economy and international security.  In chronological order, these ten elections include:

Russia (presidential election in March): While the outcome of next year’s presidential election in Russia is not in doubt, there is a possibility that President Vladimir Putin will face a sizeable protest vote, particularly given the state of the Russian economy in recent years. 

Italy (parliamentary election before May): Italy’s parliamentary elections next year have the potential to cause havoc, or gridlock, for that country’s political system.  The populist Five-Star Movement and the return of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlosconi at the head of a right-wing alliance have Italy’s European partners very concerned.

Colombia (presidential election in May): While President Juan Manuel Santos is stepping down, next year’s presidential election could become a referendum on the recent peace deal his government reached with the FARC rebel group.  With a huge number of candidates entering the race, this election remains wide open.

Mexico (presidential and congressional election in July): With a struggling economy and a difficult relationship with the Trump Administration in the United States, Mexico’s 2018 elections could dramatically shake up politics in that country.  Current polls place the left-wing populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the early favorite among the list of current presidential candidates.

Malaysia (parliamentary election before August): Despite being rocked by the massive 1MDB corruption scandal, Prime Minister Najib Razak hopes to lead his Barisan Nasional alliance to another victory.  Rising ethnic divisions in Malaysia could play a key role in next year’s election.

Pakistan (parliamentary election before September): The ousting of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier this year has transformed the outlook for next year’s election in Pakistan.  This could open the door for parties such as Imran Khan’s PTI to mount a strong challenge to the governing PML party in this election.

Brazil (presidential and congressional elections in October): Brazil’s political establishment has been rocked by massive corruption scandals and a deep recession in recent years and President Michel Temer’s approval rating is just 3%.  There are currently dozens of candidates eyeing a run at the presidency next year.

Venezuela (presidential election in October): President Nicolas Maduro and his left-wing government have rolled back democratic norms in Venezuela in order to hold on to power despite that country’s economic collapse.  This could prompt the political opposition to boycott next year’s presidential election.

United States (mid-term congressional and state elections in November): With President Donald Trump’s approval rating at below 38%, Democrats hope to make major gains in next year’s mid-term elections in the United States.  However, the odds are stacked against them taking control of the Congress in these elections.

Thailand (parliamentary election in November): After a series of delays, Thailand’s military government finally scheduled that country’s next parliamentary election for late next year.  This will be the first parliamentary election in Thailand since 2014’s military coup, and the military is certain to attempt to maintain some of its grip on power. 

For some areas of the world. 2018’s most important elections will have a major impact on the political and economic direction of these regions.  This is particularly true in the Americas, where half of next year’s leading elections will take place, and with the four-most populous countries in the Americas all holding national elections in 2018.  All of next year’s national elections will be closely watched to determine if the factors that have caused so many electoral upheavals in recent years remain in place.  If voters continue to opt for populist parties and candidates on the political right and left, fears will grow that democracy’s future is in jeopardy.  Furthermore, if the economies of many of the countries that are holding elections next year falter, voters’ anger is likely to rise to even higher levels than today. 

Given the state of many of the world’s leading democracies, it can be said that, whereas elections were once the source of strength for the world’s democracies and helped that form of government to spread to most corners of the world, today’s elections are instead a major factor in the growing unrest and uncertainty that is plaguing much of the world today.