Elections: fall 2018

Cade Cowan, Senior Editor


Opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, a long time lawmaker, won an upset victory in Maldives’ presidential election and ousted incumbent President Abdulla Yameen, a controversial leader with an authoritarian streak, despite the precarious position of his embattled and disparate coalition.Mr Yameen lost while garnering only 42% of the votes cast. Yameen had appeared desperate to remain in power in the months leading up to the election which made his quiet conceding of defeat ever more surprising . The democratic nature of this election and President Yameen’s administration has been widely criticized. Early this year, when he felt his power was threaten, he declared a state of emergency and arbitrarily arrested Supreme Court justices, members of parliament and even former presidents. His government during the lead up to the election tried to court voters with waived rent fines and lowered prison sentences. There was also a police raid of the opposition’s headquarters close to Election Day. This election has immense domestic significance. Solih has promised to overturn the questionable convictions of opposition leaders. Many of Yameen’s controversial policies will receive the proper parliamentary scrutiny that was impossible when he was still in power. These include the re-introduction of the death penalty and the re-criminalisation of defamation, which will likely be re-examined and overturned.  There will also be inquiries made into corruption scandals and the mysterious murders of critics. The international implications of this election go well beyond the borders of the cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean. Yameen’s rule has been characterized by nationalism and religiosity as well increasing financial and economic ties with China and Saudi Arabia. Solih and his coalition on the other hand are likely to seek closer ties with India. Being closer to India will likely strain the country’s complicated relationship with China. The opposition has promised it would review China's investments in the Maldives and its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. This is due to concerns that these initiatives could serve to plunge the island nation into a debt trap.


Bosnia and Herzegovina recently had their tripartite presidential elections as well as a whole host of local elections within its two distinct entities. This Balkan country has a very unique and enormously complicated power-sharing arrangement that was installed after the Bosnian War of the mid-1990s. This conflict involved ethnic violence between Serbs, Croats and Muslims during the breakup of Yugoslavia that took the lives of over 100 000 people. President Milorad Dodik won his place as the Serbian representative in the multi ethnic, tripartite presidency. He is an internationally controversial figure, who has voiced his desired to have the Serbs separate into their own country . Zeljko Kosmic has won the Croat seat, which has proved destabilizing, as he beat out a major Croat politician for the seat. This has led to protests from Croat voters who don’t see the moderate Kosmic as their true representative. Sefik Dzaferovic will fill the presidential seat reserved for the Bosniaks .There has been some questioning of the democratic nature of these fragmented elections. These elections have been marred by fraud allegations including alleged manipulation and discrepancies among registered voters within the Voter ID system. Domestically, the country is politically and economically stagnant as well as deeply ethnically divided. Over one-third of its 3.5 million people are unemployed, which has sent many of the country’s youth elsewhere to look for work.This election has pressing regional and international significance.The United States is highly critical of Dodik and has levied sanctions against him. This distaste is mutual as he has accused the United States and Britain of giving money to his political opponents. He has also been endorsed by Vladimir Putin, which is likely to amount to closer ties to the Kremlin. The EU is pushing hard for the country to resolve its ongoing disputes so they can join the regional bloc. This is proving less likely as Bosnia has become part of a worrying trend of nationalistic fervour that has rocked through the Balkans and Eastern Europe in recent months; a trend, which has been well documented throughout this election tracker .


Afghanistan voted in its 3rd parliamentary elections since the country's new constitution was adopted in 2004. The upper house of Afghanistan’s parliament, or Mesherano Jirgaw, serves in a mostly advisory role and is appointed by an indirect vote. The lower house, or Wolesi Jirga, has the mandate to pass legislation.The 250 seats in the Wolesi Jirga are distributed among the 34 provinces through a proportional representation system. Some seats are reserved for certain minorities or disadvantaged groups such as the 10 seats reserved for the Kuchi peoples and the 68 seats for female members (or two for each of the 34 provinces). The outcome of this election will not be released by the Electoral Commission for several weeks. The democratic realities of Afghanistan were called sharply into question this election cycle. These elections were originally scheduled for 2014, but have been postponed numerous times. This is not due to the violent unrest alone, but it is also a consequence of protracted debates over electoral reform and fraud accusations.Difficulties with a new bio-metric identification system which was to prevent fraud allegations instead created disruptive amounts of confusion and delays which in turn caused frustrated voters to challenge the credibility of the polls. An independent monitoring group alleged the election was marred by ballot stuffing and intimidation. The democratic and domestic implications of this election are inseparable as it has tested the stability of the country and its fledgling institutions. The embattled county is plagued by violence as the Afghan government fights the Taliban, which continues to control close to 14 percent of the landlocked country. In recent months 10 candidates have been killed in attacks perpetrated by the Taliban and other groups. Local elections in Kandahar were delayed for one week because of a series of attacks on provincial officials orchestrated by the Taliban. This election has significant international implications as it is important for the Afghan’s main benefactor - the United States. The United States is eager for an exit strategy after 17 years of stagnating conflict that has cost nearly a trillion dollars and has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service personnel.


Cameroon’s incumbent, President Paul Biya, who has held the position for 36 years, has won yet another term after an election with fraud allegations and voter intimidation. Biya emerged as a clear winner with over 71 percent of the votes cast. Police and other state forces have been placed in major cities such as Yaoundé, the nation’s capital, and Douala to subvert attempts by activists to stage demonstrations against the incumbent president . Recently, a secessionist movement has formed among the anglophone minority in Cameroon due to government repression of peaceful protests and their perceived marginalization and lack of representation in key governmental bodies and institutions. The army has killed unarmed citizens and burned whole villages during the build-up of lingual tensions.Domestically, Cameroon is known for coffee and oil exports. The country has experienced over four percent growth in GDP since the last election, but most people still live in poverty. Internationally, Cameroon’s northern region has faced significant challenges in containing Boko Haram. The terrorist group has been a major thorn in the side of regional security actors and its actions have displaced many Cameroonians. The United States Armed Forces have had a small presence on the ground to help the country in its anti-terrorist operations. Washington considers Cameroon as an important security partner in an unstable region.


Sao Tome and Principe’s ruling party,  the ADI party, lost its majority in the National Assembly after the parliamentary elections held in late October of this year. The centre-right ADI party has been in government since 2014 and still won the recent elections, but it ended up with only 25 of the 55 seats rather than the 33 seats it held before the contest.  This election has democratically mixed outcomes and implications. On election day, 90,000 voters in the archipelago comprised of 200,000 residents turned out to vote. After the election, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Sao Tome Electoral Commission offices alleging electoral fraud favouring the ADI. A prominent judge’s car was destroyed and the intervention of riot police was necessary to disperse the protesters. Sao Tome and Principe is thought of as a shining example of democratization in Central Africa.  The country allowed multiparty politics starting in 1991, after fifteen years of communist rule beginning with its independence from Portugal. The island nation’s economy is based on cocoa and coffee and is overwhelmingly dependent on international aid.


Ireland overwhelming voted to remove blasphemy as a crime from its constitution while also giving Michael Higgins a landslide victory going into his second term as president in dual polls held in late October of this year. The last prosecuted case of blasphemy was in 1855, but three years ago the Irish police were obliged to investigate statements made by Stephen Fry on television in which the celebrated British public intellectual expressed anti-theist sentiments. The investigation was later dropped. This referendum is part of a growing trend of popular changes to Ireland’s traditional religiously conservative disposition, which has been exemplified by securing reproductive rights for women and same-sex marriage by popular vote. Current Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has called this a “culmination of a quiet revolution for the past 10 or 20 years”. Higgins did win a stunning victory, but it was not unchallenged both electorally and by the press. Peter Casey, former Dragon from Irish Dragons’ Den, came in second among a plethora of challengers. Higgins was hounded by questions over presidential expenses such as his use of a state-owned plane to travel from Dublin to Belfast in Northern Ireland. Casey faced far stiffer criticism. He caused outrage and calls to withdraw his candidacy after he stated Travellers, a nomadic group that have resided on the island for centuries, as people camping on other people’s land and that recognizing them as a minority group was nonsense.


Jair Bolsonaro, a seven-term lawmaker and former paratrooper, won Brazil's presidential election. Bolsonaro won 55.2 percent of the votes in a runoff election against his left-wing challenger Fernando Haddad. The election was marred with bombastic, illiberal rhetoric and was far from the democratic ideal. Bolsonaro was nearly killed in a failed assassination attempt during an extremely volatile campaign. There was evidence of a fake news network and multiple incidents of violence among the electorate with many attributed to Bolsonaro’s supporters. Bolsonaro’s rise has far-reaching domestic implications and is a symptom of pressing economic and social crises in Brazil. Bolsonaro’s rapid ascendancy can be explained by the widespread rejection and dissatisfaction with ruling the Workers Party, or PT, which many Brazilians hold responsible for the ongoing recession and its own rampant corruption. Under President Dilma Rousseff, who found herself impeached in 2016, the world’s fourth-largest democracy hurtled into the worst recession it has ever seen and further into a homicide crisis that amounted to a staggering 63,880 deaths in 2017. Bolsonaro campaigned on cutting bureaucracy and allowing businesses to operate freely. He has pledged to eliminate the federal deficit and to practice fiscal discipline. Bolsonaro has promised to reduce gun laws and give police more authority to kill suspects in an attempt to address the rampant violent crime plaguing the country. Yet, in 2017 police killed more than 5000 people, but this has yet to reverse the violent trend in Brazilian society. Various activist groups and Brazil’s LGBT community are alarmed at Bolsonaro’s promises to expel certain NGOs from the country and who brazenly proclaims himself a “proud homophobe”. Internationally, this is a continuation of a global trend of right-wing, populism that has taken hold in places like the United States, Eastern Europe, and the Philippines. This does not seem to bode well for the continued hegemony of liberal democracy in the 21st century.


The Democratic Party won a comfortable majority in the United States’s House of Representatives in the recent midterm elections. This was far from an absolute blue wave that was expected and anticipated by democratic proponents, as the GOP’s stake in the Senate grew rather than waned. This was partly due to the losses suffered by incumbent democrat senators in Trump friendly, swing states. This leaves the United States with a divided legislative branch and the possibility of gridlock. The new senate has more republican presence which means that President Trump will have an easier time appointing future cabinet members and federal judges. There was also a variety of elections for state governors that proved to be similar in how electorally mixed and divisive they were in their outcomes. This election amounted to a lot of firsts in american political life such as the first Muslim women elected to the congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, and the first openly gay governor, elected Jared Polis, among other great leaps forward. Most significantly, there is a record number of women heading to congress this term. Despite some incidents of voter suppression, this election would be considered thoroughly democratic. This has far-reaching domestic implications and will likely proved to be one of the most important elections in recent memory. Democrats can now freely investigate the president and members of of his cabinet. It seems that the president's tax returns are a likely target and almost a certainty that they will legislate protections for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The Democrats will be able to check the their Republican counterparts on legislatively decisive issues like taxes and healthcare. Democrats are eagerly anticipated their new mandate, but it seems there is great hesitation and uncertainty on the prospect of impeachment even with a great deal of popular support. This is largely due to constitutional powers over impeachment favouring the senate, but there is concerns over electoral fallout in swing states and normative concerns such as national unity. Many observers feel that the impeachment prospect rests of the outcome of the Mueller probe and other investigations into the president’s finances. Nancy Pelosi, a long time lawmaker, will likely take up her previous position of Speaker of the House. She will have a great deal of control over the legislative agenda and will be arguably the de facto head of the legislative branch. Potential legislation she might spearhead include bills to curb money in politics, reduce drug prices, increase firearm background checks, and create legal protections for Dreamers. Due to the president’s veto power, the likelihood of any of this being made law is very much in doubt. There was much international interest in this election, some of which from forces with nefarious intent. US security officials have stated they see no evidence that the election was compromised by foreign interests, but they have warned that Russia, China, and Iran aimed to “influence” the election by spreading misinformation and propaganda. These sort of tactics were infamously used during the 2016 presidential election when Russia used fake Facebook ads, troll bots, and other deceptions to upset the electoral process of their central geopolitical rival. The international implications of this election, or any national election in the US are immense and untold. The United States will remain the most powerful nation, at least in the near future, prompting any substantial change in policy or domestic power dynamics to have profound effects on the entire planet.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and his FijiFirst Party has won election by a large margin in Fiji’s recent general elections. Bainimarama has been in power in Fiji since 2007 after a military coup, but this coup was bloodless and Bainimarama has worked diligently to transition Fiji to democracy. This election has been a democratic success. Fiji was isolated diplomatically by other governments after the initial coup, but its return to democracy has allowed it to be ushered back into the international community. Bainimarama has gained international acceptance and praise since the 2014 election, but he was initially characterized as a despot by Australia and New Zealand and other regional powers. This election has positive domestic and international implications. FijiFirst says it has bridged racial divisions by implementing equal rights for Indian-Fijians, a sizable minority brought to the island by the British to work on colonial era, sugar plantations. Bainimarama’s government has overseen a prosperous period for the island nation’s  tourism-based economy, which has experienced growth more than three percent annually. He has advocated for climate change action internationally, chairing the United Nations' COP 23 talks on global warming and showcasing the dangers faced by island nations due to rising sea levels.This election sheds positive light on the prospects of democratization in the region and the need for international collective action towards climate change.