2018: The year in elections around the world

No one could have known it at the time, but Donald Trump’s election win in 2016 can now be seen as the beginning of a two-year stretch marked by a flurry of electoral activity around the world.

Leaving aside Communist China, during this span of time the five biggest countries by GDP will have held national elections, as will have the large majority of the top 15.

Following Trump, new presidents emerged in France and South Korea in 2017, and the long-term prospects of the leaders in England and Germany were put into more doubt than expected. At minimum, there will be new heads of state in 2018 in Brazil, Mexico and Italy. There’s also Cuba, where come April Raul Castro will no longer hold the title of president, though he’ll likely still influence behind the scenes.

As in the U.S. and France, candidates not tainted by previous regimes will flourish elsewhere, and the recent rhetoric that damns the political and business elite will likely find some receptive audiences.

Here’s a look at some of the prominent elections in 2018. Not included are the likes of Cameroon, Cambodia and Venezuela, where longstanding and more recent developments have choked hopes for free and fair elections in the coming months.

Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo are scheduled to hold 2018 votes but those remain to be seen — the former has just deposed its infamous dictator, while the latter features a dictator who’s outstayed his term limit for over a year now.

Finally, additional elections could occur given shaky governments in Australia, Britain and Greece, and the U.S. midterms will affect the Trump presidency going forward, regardless of whether the special counsel probe has reached its conclusion.

Navalny

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny speaks during a rally in Ivanovo, Russia on Oct. 27. He is barred from running for president. (Vladimir Smirnov/TASS/Getty)

Russia: March 18

Lacking in suspense, Russia’s election is of course profoundly important. Vladimir Putin will continue his rule over Russia since 2000 with a six-year term; his only declared rival is Ksenia Sobchak, a telegenic but politically insignificant daughter of his former mentor.

Putin recently publicly lamented the lack of opposition, a risible complaint given that rabble rouser Alexei Navalny is prohibited from running due to trumped-up criminal charges. Few would expect victory for Navalny, popular with many young Russians, but his participation would give a more accurate measure of Putin’s popularity. In Navalny’s absence, storylines will focus on how enthusiastic turnout is and the occurrence (or lack thereof) of protests. The speculation as to Putin’s eventual successor in 2024 will then follow.

Berlusconi

Forza Italia party leader Silvio Berlusconi gestures as he speaks during a rally in Catania, Italy, on Nov. 2. (Antonio Parrinello/Reuters)

Italy: March-May

He’s tanned, opinionated and embroiled in sex and fraud scandals. Long before there was Trumpism, Silvio Berlusconi influenced Italian politics and worried European allies.

Berlusconi, 81, can’t legally seek a fifth turn as prime minister due to a tax fraud conviction. But he is party president of centre-right Forza Italia, which could be part of a coalition almost certain to result in Italy’s fractured politics.

Another familiar face is the Democratic Party’s Matteo Renzi. The former PM forced from office in 2016 after a referendum defeat aims to run and take the mantle back from replacement Paolo Gentiloni. But the tea leaves are suggesting a rightward shift in Italy, with many concerned by the influx of migrants the past few years from Libya.

The mood figures to benefit the Five Star Movement, a political party whose unique platform combines skepticism of the European Union, environmental concerns and social libertarian views (the party’s loud proclamations on immunization have been cited as a cause of falling vaccination rates, for example).

The Northern League could also prosper. Its members seek greater spoils for the regions that drive the economy, and their anti-immigrant views mean they’re often compared to Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France.

Trump-Sisi

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed admiration for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, despite his less-than-democratic leanings. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Egypt: April-May

Egypt could enter a period of consistency after a tumultuous six-year stretch, which has seen:

  • Strongman Hosni Mubarak overthrown after three decades as part of the Arab Spring uprising.
  • Muslim Brotherhood ally Mohammed Morsi becoming the country’s first elected president, but lasting just two years before facing his own coup. 
  • Both Mubarak and Morsi jailed; Morsi is still locked up.

Autocrat Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has since stifled protests and banned the Muslim Brotherhood. Trump has signalled his admiration of el-Sisi, who hasn’t officially declared another bid.

But the Islamist violence threat is ever-present — Coptic Christians and Sufi Muslims have suffered gruesome attacks, and the country is just two years removed from the bombing of a plane departing from resort town Sharm el-Sheikh.

Ahmed Shafik, former Egyptian PM under Mubarak, has indicated he wants to campaign. Most recently living in United Arab Emirates, it’s not clear if he’ll be allowed back in to run.

COLOMBIA-REBELS/FARC

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, left, and FARC rebel leader Timochenko, right, are seen June 23, 2016 heralding their landmark deal, along with Cuban Prresident Raul Castro. FARC has been granted party status after decades of violent conflict with the government. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

Colombia: May 27

Departing President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize after striking a peace deal with guerrilla group FARC, which over the decades used assassinations and drug profiteering to gain authority. Domestic fallout from the divisive deal has hampered Santos’s U Party and the electoral hopes of his current vice-president, German Vargas.

Two candidates with big city mayoral experience are figuring in polls — Sergio Fajardo (Medellin, centre-left) and Gustavo Petro (Bogota, leftist) — and a candidate will emerge from a right-wing coalition with the likely backing of former President Alvaro Uribe.

FARC (now known as the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force) was granted party status and is guaranteed 10 congressional seats. Their best-known leader, Timochenko, is running for office.

MEXICO-ELECTION/AMLO

Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) smiles at a campaign rally on Dec. 17. He has promised a cooperative but not submissive relationship with the U.S. if elected. (Ginnette Riquelme/Reuters)

Mexico: July 1

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is hoping the third time running for president is a charm. AMLO, as he is known, can be as erratic and stubborn as Trump but the Morena Party politician is not averse to environmental and business regulations and has even floated the idea of amnesty for some drug criminals.

So, even without the threats from America to blow up long-held trade assumptions and erect a border wall, sparks could fly with such a pairing. He has said the relationship with the U.S. will not be “one of submission” on his watch.

Mexico limits presidents to one term. Enrique Pena Nieto’s government has been scarred by corruption allegations and the country’s wanton drug cartel violence. The dominant political player for much of the past century, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), appears to be tapping his finance minister Jose Antonio Meade for candidate.

The National Action Party is polling well and will field a candidate, while Margarita Zavala — wife of former president Felipe Calderon — runs as an independent. So as one of the relatively few Latin American countries not to hold runoff rounds, the candidate with the most votes should get elected with under 40 per cent overall support.

Brazil composite

Seen in file photos from left to right, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, right-wing firebrand Jair Bolsonaro and centre-left former environment minister Marina Silva could be in the mix in Brazil’s 2018 campaign. (Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images; Sebastiao Moreira/EPA-EFE; Andre Penner/AP)

Brazil: October

Placeholder President Michel Temer finishes out the string, having replaced the ousted Dilma Rousseff, who is among dozens of Brazilian politicians in recent years tainted by corruption allegations and findings.

Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is on that list yet is near the top of 2018 candidate polls. Sentenced to prison in July for accepting bribes, the left-wing Lula remains free as appeals courts sort out whether he can run.

Candidate Jair Bolsonaro has worn the Trump tag. He has been accused of sexism, is a staunch law-enforcement proponent, is opposed to same-sex unions and refugees, and thinks gun ownership should be subsidized.

Former presidential candidates Marina Silva and Geraldo Alckmin could vie again. Silva, a charismatic and divisive politician, is a long shot but would make history as the country’s first black president. The centrist Alckmin made it to a runoff with Lula in 2006, finishing with about 42 per cent of the vote.

Other scheduled national elections in 2018: Finland, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sweden, Thailand.

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