elections: spring 2018

Cade Cowan, Senior Editor


Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s ABLP remained Antigua and Barbuda’s ruling party during its parliamentary elections held on March 21st of this year while gaining a coveted seat on Barbuda. There have been some passionate outcries over the democratic nature of the recent election. Hurricane Irma forced the evacuation of Barbuda’s 1600 inhabitants and severely damaged infrastructure on the island, but some of have returned to their homes. The electoral commission has decided to station Barbuda’s electoral official on Antigua, thus forcing hundreds of Barbabans to commute 40 km by ferry.  Prime Minister’s critics  have alleged this to be an attempt to stifle opposition to the overturn of some popular legislation. This legislation has closely linked domestic and international implications. Mr. Browne wants to overturn a system of communal land ownership that has existed since 1834.This has the expressed purpose of bringing in tourism investment, as bigwigs like Billionaire James Packer and actor Robert De Niro who want to build a large resort on the island which is unpopular among locals. This is being touted as a way to raise funds to repair an economy ravaged by Irma, but some see it as placating to foreign special interests. 



Turkmenistan had its parliamentary elections on March 25th of this year, even with three parties in contention,all the candidates were loyal to President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. One prominent candidate was the president's son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, who is considered his likely successor. The legislature exists to rubber-stamp bills drafted by the cabinet. The People's Council, chaired by the president has more powers than the legislature. Yet, the parliament speaker is crucial because they become acting president if the head of state is unable to fulfil his duties. This position will likely go to the president’s son. The small, gas-rich, former Soviet republic faces foreign currency shortages because of a drop in gas exports. Turkmenistan's economy is mostly dependant on exporting natural gas. Russia was its main importer until it halted purchases in 2016, leaving China as the primary destination of Turkmen gas. Turkmenistan is building a new pipeline through nearby Afghanistan to Pakistan and China in an attempt to open up new export markets.


Controversial Incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has won another term with an alarming 97 percent of the votes cast. This election was widely criticized for its undemocratic and suppressive nature. The election featured arrests, intimidation, and crackdowns on all viable opposition candidates. Many opposition leaders were forced out of the race early on by the use of these tactics. A prominent example was Ahmed Konsowa, an army colonel, who pulled out before the campaign deadline due to a six-month prison term. The election was characterized as a charade as the President faced no real opposition. Free speech and civil liberties have been attacked by Sisi’s brutal security crackdown, which frequently employs torture. Domestically, Egypt is dealing with a fragile economy, which is being rectified by robust austerity measures that have allowed for a 12 billion loan from the IMF. This necessitated a cut to government subsidies, which increased inflation and raised food prices dramatically. This fragility is partly because of a drop off in vital tourism revenue after the tumultuous 2011 revolution and its turbulent aftermath. El-Sisi has also faced criticism over his downplaying of the strong economic influence of the military, which is suspected of taking a large share of the economy and public revenue with little oversight. Egypt also faces an ongoing anti-terror campaign against an ISIS-affiliated group in Sinai, which had been condemned as expensive and a failure. Internationally, the United States and Israel have benefited from closer security cooperation in the region under Sisi’s watch, and they feel that Egypt is a key partner in maintaining stability in the region. Egypt has even allowed its historic rival, Israel, to operate drones in its territory. Trump has also frequently expressed his admiration for President el-Sisi. El-Sisi faced backlash locally for his decision to cede two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia which many felt was a national insult and embarrassment, which, among other things, have damaged his popularity.



Carlos Alvarado Quesada, a former labour minister and novelist from the ruling party, was decisively elected president with three-fifths of the vote in the Costa Rica runoff election held in April of this year. Costa Rica is known as a popular tourist destination and for its environmental stewardship. Issues in the campaign and in the country at large include a growing deficit, high unemployment, an increasing homicide rate, and alleged corruption. The latter particularly affected Quesada’s campaign because of his involvement with the current administration. The central campaign debate between Quesada and his main opponent, Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz, was the issue of same-sex marriage. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights decided that its members including Costa Rica must legalize same-sex marriage. This drastically changed the campaign rhetoric and approaches of both parties. Munoz, an evangelical, based his whole campaign around fighting this ruling while Quesada supported it. Munoz rode the wave of Christian conservative backlash in the traditionally Roman Catholic country. Munoz felt this challenged Costa Rica’s sovereignty and wanted to remove the country from the court’s reach. Costa Rica’s Ombudsman reported receiving “a disproportionate increase” in reporting of verbal and physical aggression against LGBTQ+ people this election cycle. Despite this, it is a good sign that progress is being made worldwide towards marriage equality.



Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party won an overwhelming victory in Hungary’s parliamentary elections on April 8th of this year with it securing two-thirds of the seats. The democratic nature of this particular election, Orban’s government and even Hungary itself is critically in question. Outside monitoring groups have pointed out media bias, corruption, and gerrymandering. Orban has been frequently characterized as autocratic and populist, and he even popularized the term illiberal democracy. Domestically, Hungary has been enjoying rapid economic growth, 3.9 percent this year, even considering accusations of looting of government funds and corruption. Internationally, Orban continues to rail against E.U. initiatives, and African and Asian asylum seekers, which is the hallmark of his campaign and continued popularity. He galvanized the fears and anxieties brought about by the 2015 Refugee Crisis to bolster his anti-migrant, anti-multicultural rhetoric with great electoral success. He believes E.U. policy, immigration and multiculturalism is a threat to Hungary’s Western way of life. His rhetoric and policy aims are at odds with Hungary’s need for E.U. investment in infrastructure. Hungary’s illiberal government is a part of a worrying trend in Europe of the far-right, populist parties coming to power in countries such as Poland, Slovenia, and Italy. 



President Ilham Aliyev has won a fourth term in Azerbaijan’s presidential elections that took place on April 11th of this year. The democratic quality of this election is in question. Aliyev’s government has been accused of authoritarianism and suppressing political dissent, which has led opposition parties to boycott the election. The OSCE, a European election monitor, has harshly criticized the political and democratic environment of the country. Aliyev has used his position to extend the length of presidential terms for his own political gain. Domestically, Azerbaijan benefits from large amounts of oil exports, but recently the drop in crude oil prices have shrunk the economy, and weakened its currency. Azerbaijan benefits from being an alternative to sanctioned Russian oil and gas for Europeans markets, which some suggest is the root of tacit Western acceptance of Aliyev’s behaviour. 



Former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, a pro-E.U. veteran politician, has won Montenegro’s presidential elections that took place on April 15th of the year. This election was largely peaceful and democratic, but involved heated accusations against Djukanovic. Opposition candidates accused him of cronyism, corruption, and connections with organized crime and human traffickers, which he vehemently denied. The new president is likely to finalize the country’s E.U. membership bid. He angered the Kremlin because of his role in entering Montenegro into the NATO alliance in 2016. Russian operatives allegedly planned a coup and an assassination that was thwarted by Montenegrin authorities and promptly denied by Moscow. 



Mario Abdo Benitez, of the right-wing Colorado party, won Paraguay’s presidential election by a small margin. This party has been in power for most of Paraguay’s Democratic history, so this small victory could show that the party’s hegemony is waning. This election also brought up troubling concerns over Paraguay’s democratic future and its autocratic past. Benitez father was private secretary to Paraguay’s longtime, brutal Dictator Alfredo Stroessner. Benitez refused to condemn the former regime outright. While he admitted its atrocities, he chooses to highlight its supposed achievements. This calls into question the new president respect for the rule of law and human rights. This election has domestic implications as well. Benitez promised lower taxes to encourage more foreign investment in Paraguay’s crucial Soybean industry. There is opposition to this initiative in the Congress, as an export tax on soy is being pushed by opposition parties. Benitez will likely need to concede a lot to these  parties to meet his aim of bolstering Paraguay’s infrastructure and agriculture. This has international significance as Paraguay is one of the world’s biggest exporters of Soybeans. 



French Polynesia, or more commonly Tahiti, gave the ruling party of President Edouard Fritch a decisive victory with an increased majority in its recent election. The democratic nature of this election is questionable as corruption was the order of the day. Nine candidates of Fritch’s party who were convicted of corruption landed seats, while Fritch is a former convict himself. Allegations of corruption were flung between parties during the election from all sides. A major domestic issue is the upcoming independence referendum on November 4th which polls suggest Tahitians will choose to remain politically linked with the French Republic. Other pressing domestic issues are the floundering tourist industry and increasing rates of unemployment and poverty. Tahiti has been of strategic international interest for quite some time, as the islands allowed France to keep its nuclear edge as they were an ideal atomic testing site. More recently China has sought to invest in the cash-strapped islands as part of its broader strategy in the Asia-Pacific as French and American power projection has been waning. Chinese business and foreign interests have been supported and subsidized by President Fritch, and this can be expected to continue into his upcoming term. 



Greenland’s ruling party, left-leaning Siumut led by Prime Minister Kim Kielsen, during the election on April 24th of this year remained the largest party, albeit smaller, in the frigid nation’s coalition government, as a pro-business party, Demokraterne, grew in electoral support. This is expected to make the government more pro-mining and capitalistic in policy. It is safe to say this election was thoroughly democratic, as Dog sleds were used to distribute voting papers to polls across the sparsely populated island, a feat that attests to the democratic spirit of the small nation. Major domestic issues were the weak economy and the prospect of independence from Denmark, which granted the island autonomy in 2009. There are social issues also concerning Greenland’s electorate, as the island suffers from one of the world's highest suicide rates, especially among the Inuit. This election also has international implications, even though modest, as there is Chinese investment in various mining enterprises including uranium, rare earth minerals, and zinc, which could be expanded by the newly pro-business coalition. There are also plans to allow Chinese interests to expand three airports on the island which has caused some concern for Denmark, as they have historically given their American allies wide military access. 



Saad Hariri will remain Lebanon’s Prime Minister after the parliamentary elections held in May of this year. The Lebanese President has asked him to form a government as he is the leader of the largest Sunni Party and the country’s sectarian power-sharing system requires a Sunni to hold the premiership. Even though he will be Prime Minister, Hariri’s Future Movement was not the biggest winner in this year’s election as they lost a significant amount of their stake in parliament. Hezbollah and Amal (the “Shia Duo”) and their political allies made the biggest gains. They have secured the “obstructionist third” necessary to interfere with quorums and will have much say in the actions of the new government. Overseen by Security Forces, this election was relatively peaceful even with 7000 documented violations. This is especially unusual given the fact that is the first election since 2009 after multiple postponements due to regional crises, security concerns and internal political wrangling. Ongoing domestic issues include its considerable debts to international donors, and it’s low rankings on the global transparency index and its debt-to-GDP ratio. This election has international significance. Not just because of the recent widely publicized spat between Hariri and Saudi Arabia, but because of Hezbollah's growing influence in the North African republic. Israel has already criticized this new dynamic and condemned the whole country because of Hezbollah's growing base. This has also antagonized Saudi Arabia who has ongoing disputes with Lebanon and its Prime Minister, and this further exasperated by what is seen as Iran’s mounting power projection in the region due to its close association with Hezbollah. 


IRAQ -- 12 MAY 

Cleric Muqtada Al Sadr’s Sairoon, an Anti-American and Anti-Iranian Shi’ite Nationalist coalition, won the most seats in Iraq’s Parliament, but not the 165 seats necessary to form a government. Prime Minister Al Abadi is likely to retain his position, but negotiations will continue for months among coalitions. The Iran-aligned al-Fatah, closely associated with Iranian-backed militias, also grew its electoral share in Iraq’s Council of Representatives during the May 12th elections of this year. Many within the country were shocked by the outcome of the election and questioned its democratic validity. The outgoing parliament called for a manual recount as the reliability of the new voting machines was called into question. These machines produced varied results under inspection and gave credence to the accusations of electoral fraud. The domestic issues that led to this upset are rooted in the growing pains of the new power-sharing republic and the economic and infrastructural fallout of the recent ISIS conflict as well as the Second Iraq War. Iraqis are concerned about the floundering economy and job market as well as slow and inefficient government service and reconstruction efforts especially in war-torn cities like Falluja and Mosul. The international implications of this election are vast and untold. Al-Sadr cannot be prime minister as he does not have a seat on the council, but he will undoubtedly  have a role in forming the new government and potentially choosing a new prime minister. He will likely oppose and try to retract Iran’s newfound influence and power projection in Iraq. He will also push against American influence and presence in Iraq as he has done throughout his life, but this time he will not be a Mahdi Army Militant like in the 2000’s but a legitimate political figure. Current Prime Minister Al Abadi has been described as “Washington’s Man in Baghdad”, but Al Sadr will be more like “Baghdad’s Man in Baghdad”.   



A three-party coalition of East Timor’s opposition parties, led by independence figure and former president Xanana Gusmao, won the most voters in the parliamentary elections that took place on May 12th of this year. The democratic process was rocky as the election had been inflicted by sporadic violence amongst voters and heated rhetoric between candidates, though the country has been relatively calm besides the political instability it suffered initially after independence from Indonesia in 2002. Asia’s newest democracy has struggled to alleviate poverty, end corruption, and capitalize on its rich oil and gas resources. Oil and gas reserves, which revenues sustain the government, are far from a fix all as they are disappearing fast and will leave the Timorese with few other viable economic sectors.



Barbados, in its parliamentary elections held on May 20th of this year, elected their first female prime minister, BLP’s Mia Mottley, in an unprecedented landslide that left the Barbadian House of Assembly with no official opposition. The electoral process seems thoroughly democratic even though it was riddled with bureaucratic hiccups. The Chief Justice of Barbados’s Supreme Court had to hold an emergency hearing to add 18 names to the voting lists that were left out. There was also reports of disorganized and slow poll operation. The electorate’s main domestic concerns seem to centre on the fragile economy that has yet to recover from the global financial crisis a decade ago. These lingering economic issues have increased public debt, borrowing from foreign exchange reserves, and decreased the island nation’s credit rating. This has affected residents’ taxes and cost of living, which seem to be the catalyst for the fall of the previous government and the rise of Mottley’s BLP. 



Venezuela’s Socialist President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected in a controversial election this past May. This election was not good for Venezuela’s floundering democracy. There was a low voter turnout, alleged irregularities, a widespread boycott by opposition parties, improper use of state resources for campaign purposes and vote buying. Domestically, Venezuela’s economy is in complete meltdown with food shortages, hyperinflation, mass emigration, recession and a failing currency. The country’s once profitable oil sector is also in crisis. This is not helped by western sanctions, especially those from Trump’s America, that have further squeezed the fledgeling local economy. Maduro has condemned these foreign restraints as an imperialist scheme to get Venezuela’s oil riches and destroy his socialist project. This election  and Venezuela itself has drawn much international attention. Some have likened Venezuela’s economic cataclysm to that of the Weimar Republic in its last days. If history is any gauge, then this does not bode well for the troubled Latin American Republic. 



Ivan Duque has won Colombia’s presidential election with 54 percent of the vote. Domestically, the new president will need to crack down on corruption including widespread bribery of legislators in various forms, lower the high public debt, reform a sluggish economy suffering a slump from a drop in oil prices, deal with the growth of “coca” cultivated by many farmers for its use in cocaine production, fix the unaffordable pension system and deal with pressure to rework the peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla group from party insiders. The latter is deeply controversial and polarizing in Colombia due to the long-standing conflict between FARC and the government which recently quieted down. Uribistas, supporters of the former president Alvaro Uribe and Duque’s patron, take issue with lenient sentences for former members of FARC. The United States has actively advocated for the eradication of the coca crops, which is at odds with what many local farmers want and have protested against. This could serve to further serve to polarize the country which is exactly what Duque promised not to do. It would not serve him well not to anger Washington, as history proves America is not opposed to robust interference in Latin America affairs.



Former Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s SDS has won Slovenia’s parliamentary elections with the largest electoral share with 25 percent of the vote. The centre-right opposition party ran on an anti-immigration platform, which has alienated potential coalition partners. Slovenia’s president plans to allow the coalition with the most seats in parliament to form a government, but this is yet to be decided as negotiations will go on for months. The electoral process in this election was largely democratic, but Jansa’s friendship with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban calls into question Jansa’s affection for democratic rule as some characterized Orban as an authoritarian. One crucial domestic implication of this election is that the next government will have to privatize Slovenia’s largest bank as part of a previous agreement with the European Commision. Reforms are also expected for the country’s inefficient health care and pension system. Internationally, Jansa opposes the EU’s asylum seeker quota system, as Slovenia was a transit route for migrants trying to enter Northern Europe during the 2015 Refugee Crisis. The outcome of the recent Slovenian election is part of larger trend of populist, anti-immigration parties coming to power. This has happened in Hungary, Poland, and Italy which symbolizes the growing discomfort the European electorate feels towards mounting immigration.