29 December 2020

Ten Elections to Watch in 2021

2020 was certainly a year to remember, with the Covid-19 pandemic and the worst economic crisis since the Second World War making the year one of the most turbulent in modern history. Add to this the fact that geopolitical tensions continued to rise around the world, and it is clear that we are in the midst of a period of rising instability. The field of politics was also heavily impacted by these disruptions in 2020, and while most of the elections that took place during this year were held in small- and medium-sized countries and territories, there were a few exceptions. None of these were more important or impactful as the presidential and congressional elections that took place in November in the United States, elections that overshadowed all others that took place in 2020.

As we look ahead to the election year of 2021, we see that a few larger countries will be holding elections in the coming year, while some other important and impactful elections will be taking place as well. Here are ten elections to watch in 2021, in the order in which they are scheduled to take place:

  • Israel (parliamentary elections in March 2021): The recent collapse of the unity government in Israel that is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party and Benny Gantz’ centrist Blue and White alliance means that Israelis will go to the polls for the fourth time in the past two years to vote in parliamentary elections. Polls suggest that the Likud Party will be in a strong position to lead another coalition government thanks to a fall in support for the Blue and White alliance and continued high levels of support for Likud’s far-right allies. With Prime Minister Netanyahu facing trial for corruption and with his close ally, United States President Donald Trump, leaving office, these elections will have a major impact on the direction of Israeli and Middle Eastern politics in the coming years.
  • Peru (presidential and parliamentary elections in April 2021): Peru has found itself in the midst of a period of extreme political turmoil, with the country having four different presidents over the past two years. With a very large number of candidates seeking the presidency, it is unlikely that any one candidate will emerge as a clear front-runner in the coming months. This could add to the instability facing Peru, a country that has suffered a larger human and economic cost from the Covid-19 pandemic than just about any other country in the world.
  • Iraq (parliamentary elections in June 2021): Despite the fact that Iraq has been one of the most unstable countries in the world over the past few decades, it has managed to stage a series of national elections that have proven to be highly competitive. Now, as Iraq prepares for its next parliamentary elections in June 2021, it is once again facing numerous threats to its stability, including high levels of political unrest, an economy that is on the verge of collapse and the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, sectarian divisions will remain a major factor in these elections, and the formation of a stable government is likely to prove very difficult once again.
  • Iran (presidential election in June 2021): Twelve days after Iraqis go to the polls, their neighbors in Iran will vote in a crucial presidential election. With the reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani’s time in office coming to an end after two terms, it remains unclear as to who will emerge as the leading candidates in this election. What is likely is that the vote will again hinge on the split between reformists and conservatives, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei hoping that a conservative candidate will take control of the presidency. With a growing split in the Middle East emerging, these elections could play a key role in determining the level of stability in that region in the coming years.
  • Ethiopia (parliamentary elections in June 2021): Ethiopian parliamentary elections are typically one-sided affairs, but next year’s elections there will take place amid a very high degree of political unrest, including a conflict in the northern state of Tigray and rising tensions in many other areas of that country. In fact, Ethiopia is facing many of the same internal divisions that are bedeviling many countries in East Africa and are threatening to severely destabilize what had been one of Africa’s most successful and dynamic regions. 
  • Hong Kong (legislative elections in September 2021): Following the pro-democracy protests of 2019 and the imposition of the National Security Law by Beijing in 2020, Hong Kong’s legislative elections in 2021 will be among the most consequential elections of the coming year. As Beijing moves to eliminate the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, these elections might be the final chance for this movement to influence the direction of Hong Kong’s political system at the ballot box. At the same time, these elections, if they lead to more unrest, could further jeopardize Hong Kong’s role as a leading economic center in East Asia.
  • Russia (parliamentary elections in September 2021): While President Vladimir Putin’s grip on political power in Russia remains all but absolute, opposition to his leadership has been mounting following years of economic stagnation in Russia. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that President Putin’s United Russia party will not emerge from these elections with a solid majority in the Duma. What is more interesting is whether or not these elections will lead to widespread protests against President Putin, much as the unrest that has followed recent elections in many of Russia’s neighboring countries.
  • Germany (parliamentary elections in September 2021): With Chancellor Angela Merkel preparing to step down in the coming year after more than 15 years in power, 2021’s parliamentary elections in Germany are shaping up to be one of the year’s most interesting elections. Recent polls show that Chancellor Merkel’s center-right CDU-CSU alliance is the favorite to win these elections, but with less support than in previous years. Meanwhile, the left-wing Greens have a strong chance to finish second in these elections, eclipsing the center-left Social Democrats whose support continues to wane. As is often the case in Germany, forming a coalition government after these elections could prove tricky.
  • Japan (parliamentary elections no later than October 2021): New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will be keen to strengthen his grip on power by leading the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2021’s parliamentary elections in Japan. However, the LDP has seen a sharp decline in its support in recent months due to a series of scandals and a struggling Japanese economy. Nevertheless, a highly-divided political opposition means that the LDP is likely to remain in power, even if it loses some of its support in next year’s elections.
  • Chile (presidential and parliamentary elections in November 2021): With President Sebastian Pinera barred from seeking a third non-consecutive term in office, 2021’s presidential election in Chile is likely to be a wide open affair. These elections are likely to take place amid a high degree of political unrest, as the protests of 2019 and the approval of plans to draft a new constitution for Chile have left the country with a very highly-charged political climate. Add to this huge human and economic costs paid by Chile during the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is clear that Chile’s 2021 elections could spark major unrest in that country.

While 2021 lacks an election that will dominate the world’s attention in the manner of the 2020 presidential election in the United States, that does not mean that the coming year will not witness a series of elections that have the potential to be both interesting and consequential. With the world’s third- and fourth-largest economies (Japan and Germany) going to the polls, and with strategically-located countries such as Iran and Russia holding elections, 2021 will be another year in which the process of democracy will be put to the test. Hopefully, the worst of the impacts of the major events of 2020 will begin to fade over the course of the coming year and these elections can take place amid a world that is beginning to recover from the dislocations caused by the pandemic and the economic and political crises that followed.