24 December 2019

Elections to Watch in 2020

2019 has been an incredibly active year when it comes to national elections.  In fact, by the time this year is over, more than 70 countries around the world will have held some form of national election, more than any other year in history.  Among these 70-plus national elections were some very critical elections in countries that have significant global or regional influence.  Meanwhile, a number of themes were evident in these elections, themes that have stretched across national boundaries and are impacting the democratic form of government around the world.  For example, populism continues to rise as a major force in modern-day politics, a trend that was confirmed by many of this year’s most-notable elections. Likewise, fragmentation is a trend that continues to spread, with a greater array of leaders and parties winning votes.  While 2019 has been a fascinating year for elections, two of this year’s most anticipated elections, the United Kingdom’s parliamentary elections and Algeria’s presidential election, are still to take place before this year is finished.

Some of this year’s most interested election results were:

  • Nigeria: President Muhammadu Buhari won a second term in office, despite health problems that have kept him out of that country for long stretches.
  • Thailand: Thailand’s military government restored a modicum of democracy in this year’s parliamentary elections, but it retains a good deal of influence there.
  • Ukraine: The former comedic television actor Volodymyr Zelensky was resoundingly elected as Ukraine’s new president, and then found himself embroiled in a political scandal in the United States.
  • India: Despite India’s recent economic struggles, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP party swept to another comprehensive victory in what was the largest election ever held.
  • Indonesia: President Joko Widodo easily won a second term in office as his steady leadership has been welcomed by many Indonesians.
  • South Africa: Despite a series of corruption scandals, the African National Congress (ANC) reinforced its domination of South African politics in this year’s parliamentary elections.
  • Australia: In a minor surprise, the center-right Liberal-National alliance led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison was returned to power in Australia.
  • Greece: Frustration at the slow pace of Greece’s economic recovery allowed the center-right New Democracy party to return to power, ending the left-wing Syriza party’s period of governance.
  • Canada: Canada’s federal elections were as close as expected, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party were able to hang on to power, albeit without winning the popular vote.
  • Argentina: Argentina’s recent economic crisis cost President Mauricio Macri his job and that country’s voters returned a left-wing government to power.
  • Israel: Israel held not one, but two, parliamentary elections in 2019 and if a new coalition government cannot be formed this month, a third round of elections beckons.
  • Spain: Spain also held two parliamentary elections, and four in four years, with a left-wing coalition government finally being formed, but one that might prove to be short-lived.
  • Afghanistan: A presidential election took place in Afghanistan amid widespread violence and voter apathy.  So far, no winner has been announced.
  • Bolivia: A presidential election took place in Bolivia, but its results were annulled when international observers (and eventually the military) found that President Evo Morales had manipulated the results.
  • United Kingdom: Polls suggest that the Conservatives will win the upcoming elections in the UK, but whether or not they will win a solid majority in the House of Commons remains to be seen.
  • Algeria: Algeria will finally hold a presidential election after this year’s ousting of long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but much of the political opposition is opposed to this election.

Most of this year’s elections reinforced the idea that a series of trends are dominating politics these days. These include:

  • Fragmentation: An increasing number and array of parties and leaders are vying for votes, resulting in deeply divided legislatures that struggle to form cohesive and durable governments.
  • Populism: Right-wing and left-wing populist parties and leaders have seen their support rise dramatically in recent years, reducing support for the traditional centrist parties in many countries.
  • Anti-establishment sentiment: There has been a clear backlash against political leaders and parties perceived to be part of their countries’ “establishment” enabling newcomers to quickly rise to power.
  • Entrenchment: While fragmentation and anti-establishment sentiments are rising, many voters are becoming increasingly entrenched in their views, particularly with regards to hard-line positions on issues such as immigration.
  • Rising dissatisfaction: Complaining about politics has been around as long as politics itself, but the fact that an increasing number of voters are concerned about the state of their country’s political systems is nevertheless a worrying development.

The trends that have dominated the national elections that took place over the past year are likely to persist in 2020 and will certainly influence the outcomes of these upcoming elections. For example, rising discontent with politics and a growing sense of resentment among large segments of the electorate will play a major role in upcoming elections.  Meanwhile, the outlook for the economies of many countries holding elections next year is mixed, something that could play a massive role in determining the outcomes of 2020’s elections.  This, together with the increasingly important issue of inequality in terms of wealth and opportunity, will have a major influence in 2020.  

So far, the number of national elections scheduled for 2020 is much smaller than in 2019, but xzas we have seen, new elections can be called at any time.  Here are the four elections that are likely to have the greatest influence on the world next year: 

  • Taiwan: Polls show that President Tsai Ing-wen is the clear favorite to win another term in office in next January’s presidential election in Taiwan.  Under her leadership, Taiwan’s relationship with China has been strained, and her re-election may add to these tensions.
  • Iran: Iran will hold parliamentary elections next February, elections that will be taking place in the wake of violent protests that have left hundreds of people dead in recent weeks. US economic sanctions have devastated Iran’s economy, and anger towards the government has risen among Iranian voters.
  • Ethiopia: Parliamentary elections will take place next May in Ethiopia and will be a major test of Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy’s efforts to reduce internal ethnic tensions in his country. However, the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner is finding it very difficult to bridge his country’s deep ethnic divisions.
  • United States: In what is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated elections in history, United States President Donald Trump will seek re-election next November in an election process that will dominate the headlines in 2020. Congressional and state elections will also take place at the same time.

The fact that so many national elections have taken place over the past year, and that so many other elections are scheduled for the coming years, should be a sign that the democratic form of government is alive and well.  However, from what we have seen in recent years, it is clear that the future of democracy as the leading form of government in the world is in jeopardy. The deliberate spread of misinformation and “fake news” has raised questions about voters’ ability to elect leaders with their best interests in mind.  Likewise, the spread of populism is a dangerous trend and one that could lead to perpetual political gridlock as governments and leaders can no longer establish and maintain their grip on power.  Finally, an increasing lack of faith and trust in their elected governments is threatening to erode democracy in all corners of the world. Undoubtedly, the coming year will be another major test for democracy, with no upcoming election having a greater impact on democracy’s future than next year’s elections in the United States.