Elections: Summer 2018

Cade Cowan, Senior Editor


Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s presidential vote on the 24th of June this year in a landmark election. The People’s Alliance, a bloc between Erdogan’s AK Party and the MHP Party, won both the presidential election and a clear majority in the legislative assembly. This has marked the first time both the parliamentary and presidential elections were held simultaneously in twin polls after sweeping constitutional changes were made by referendum last year. These constitutional changes have been criticized as undemocratic and dangerous by opponents. This newly established, executive presidential system will give the office of the president significant, far-reaching powers. These include the power to appoint senior judges and other officials, to arbitrarily dissolve parliament, and impose a state of emergency. The democratic nature of the elections has also been called into question because it was pushed forward from its November 2019 date. This has been characterized by critics as a power grab to mitigate the electoral impact of Turkey’s economic difficulties. This election has landmark domestic implications not only because of its constitutional significance but other pressing domestic issues. The country is under pressure from a refugee crisis, inflation, the aftermath of an attempted coup, and from increased polarization and uncertainty that plagues the zeitgeist. This new republic is seen by some as a fatal deviation from the secular, liberal values of Turkey’s founder, Kemal Ataturk, towards  Erdogan’s new vision of Islamic nationalism and ottoman nostalgia. This development has bitterly divided the nation between and nationalists on one side and secularists and liberals on the other. Internationally, one can expect continued nationalistic tensions with NATO, the European Union and ethnic tensions with Kurdish communities both within Turkey and elsewhere. 



Andrés Manuel López Obrador, frequently called Amlo, has won a sweeping victory in Mexico’s Presidential Elections with over 53 percent of the vote. He ran on a left-wing, populist platform that includes combating corruption, a less militarized approach to the drug war, and curtailing needless public spending while increasing social spending, especially on the poor, without raising taxes. He believes that by eliminating corruption and “offensive privileges” for public officials,  he should be able to pay for his massive new social programs. Internationally, it can be expected that Mexican will pull back regionally from crises in Central America as he has been characterized by observers as not being an internationalist. The most interesting development is his relationship with US President Donald Trump. Amlo has expressed his desire to work towards a renegotiated NAFTA mutually and to deal with the migrant crisis, but the two presidents have very different ideas and how these things can be resolved. Trump has touted the possibility of separate binational trade agreements with NAFTA partners which Amlo is against.  This is further complicated by the fact that the outgoing Mexican administration has been preparing a separate, binational trade deal with the US in case US and Canadian negotiators cannot reconcile their differences over NAFTA and automotive and agricultural policy. This should be expected to cast a shadow over much of Amlo’s upcoming term.Amlo wants investment and development as the means to end Central America’s migrant crisis at its source while Trump wants more policing, security and detention. The relationship between the two men is currently friendly,  but these distinct differences of opinion and policy could sour the relationship.



Imran Khan, a former national cricket captain and leader of PTI, is likely to become Prime Minister after Pakistan’s parliamentary elections in July of this year. PTI did not get the majority it needed to form a government, but it is more than likely to find the partners needed to do so. This election has been democratically tumultuous. There was a deadly ISIS attack in Quetta, allegations of military inference and electoral fraud. There was an unprecedented delay for official results from Pakistan’s Electoral Commision which many critics have pointed to as evidence of corruption and fraud, but the commision denies this and blames it on troubling new counting software.  A European Union monitoring team stated in their findings that there was a lack of equality and an uneven playing field for the parties in contention. Jailed Former Prime Minister Shariff blames his pushback against the military’s supposed coercive influence in civilian politics for his current legal predicament. It has been alleged that the military support for Khan is the source of his success. Domestically, the issues centred on corruption, military influence and dealing with the national debt. Internationally, Pakistan can expect a fiscal rescue from the IMF amid soaring domestic and foreign debt. The United States recently withdrew two billion in security support due to Pakistan’s failure to combat terrorism adequately. China has increased infrastructure and energy investments through its CPEC initiative. Khan has expressed his desire to begin rapprochement with Pakistan’s longtime regional rival India and deepen trade ties. 



Longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen, a man who has served for over 33 years, has led his Cambodian People’s Party to an overwhelming victory in a largely unopposed parliamentary election with promises to remain in office for another ten years. The democratic nature of this controversial election is deeply in question, as the main opposition party, CNRP, was dissolved by the Supreme Court with over a hundred its members barred from office for five years and its leader, Kem Sokha, held for treason. This has led to a boycott of the election, as many feel this is strongman politics. CPP officials have allegedly threatened and coerced those unwilling to vote. This election has international implications and significance. Western powers, including the United States, have condemned the vote and the US has considered furthering visa restrictions already in place. More importantly, this election and Cambodia itself has significance to China’s grand strategy in the region and to the Sino-Japanese regional rivalry. Japan and China have both invested greatly in Cambodia’s election infrastructure and in the country more broadly. These initiatives are far from solely altruistic as both powers expect geopolitical results from their inducements. Japan is likely acting to curtail China’s mounting influence in Southeast Asia. Chinese President Jinping’s administration has offered Sen’s government billions in development assistance, which has increased China’s financial stake and influence in the country. An example of this influence at work is when Cambodia blocked mention of an international ruling regarding China’s claim to the South China Sea in a 2016 ASEAN meeting.



President Emmerson “ The Crocodile” Mnangagwa, former Mugabe enforcer and Vice President, has narrowly won Zimbabwe’s Presidential Election held in July of this year. Mnangagwa was responsible for the military-backed ousting of longtime despot Mugabe in late 2017 and took his place as President of the landlocked African republic and became the leader of ZANU-PF. The general calm and peace present on Election Day observed by monitoring groups from the Commonwealth and EU was in stark contrast to elections held under Mugabe as these were typified by violence, intimidation and rigging. This democratic orderliness would be short-lived as opposition groups, were met with state violence when they came to the capital, Harare, to protest the court’s decision to uphold  Mnangagwa’s narrow, controversial victory. The democratic nature of this election is vital for Zimbabwe both domestically and internationally, as the appearance of democratic fairness could be key to getting funding from the IMF, attract investment, and deal with their crippling economic issues such as high inflation, high unemployment, huge external debt, and a failed currency. Both major party candidates, including Mnangagwa’s main opponent Nelson Chamisa, expressed the need to rectify these pressing issues and they were the major focuses of the campaign. In order to get the investments and loans necessary to begin economic recovery from the disastrous mismanagement of Mugabe, they will need the support of key players such as the US, China and South Africa. In order to get this support that Zimbabwe  will need to prove that it is committed to free and fair elections.


Incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has won another term after getting 67 percent of the vote during a runoff after failing to get the 50 percent required in the initial round. Democratically, this election has suffered from closed polls, nearly 500 during the runoff, due to security issues caused by the unrest within the country. Opposition parties, particular opposition front-runner Soumaila Cisse, have accused Keita of electoral fraud and rigging. President Keita will have to address Mali’s lingering issues that dominated the campaign such as security, the economy, job creation and reducing poverty. The landlocked, African Republic experienced a 5.5 percent increase in economic growth in 2017 even with ongoing civil unrest. This welcomed growth is desperately needed as Mali ranks as one of the lowest countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. The country faces food insecurity and poverty even with its overwhelming natural wealth. The elections were held amid mounting deadly attacks, including against United Nation Peacekeepers. Mali’s government admitted that their soldiers had been involved in misdeeds in the country's unruly central region. The Armed Forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings, abductions and arbitrary against suspected sympathizers of armed groups. These armed rebels continue to be a major security threat across Mali's borders with Niger and Burkina Faso. The UN mission in Mali established in 2013, which bolsters over 11,000 troops in the field, has proven to be one of the most dangerous peacekeeping operations operating in the world today. UN Peacekeepers are regularly attacked by these armed groups. France, Mali’s former colonizer, has been particularly active in driving out the rebels from the northern cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. This ongoing conflict has claimed the lives of more than 140 UN peacekeepers since the mission began. 



President Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s leading politician since the 1994 Genocide, and his RPF and allies secured 74 percent of the votes after the parliamentary elections held on September 2nd of this year. Rwandans don’t vote for individual representatives, but for parties which decide the candidates to enter parliament. Rwanda’s only viable opposition, the Green Party. became the first opposition party to enter parliament by winning two seats. Parliament does not challenge the longtime president instead chooses to be a rubber stamp for his policies. These include changing the constitution to remove presidential term limits and approved draconian prison terms for journalists who publish “embarrassing” cartoons. Kagame is lauded for his pivotal role in ending the genocide and improving Rwanda's economy, but faces criticized for anti-free speech tactics and use of intimidation. 


In the recent Swedish parliamentary elections, there was a virtual tie between the two major centre-right and centre-left blocs, each with roughly 40 percent of the votes, which poses significant challenges to government and coalition formation. The 349 members of the Swiss Riksdag are elected through a proportional representation system. The Sweden Democrats, a party with alleged white supremacist ties, won 17.6 percent of the vote. They are very anti-immigration and eurosceptic, which makes their growth in electoral share remarkable as the country is typified by left-leaning policies. It seems very unlikely that it will be possible to form a government without support from the Sweden Democrats unless parties are willing to break ranks with their traditional blocs. Domestically, Sweden has recently deviated from its “humanitarian superpower” moniker because a rise in gang violence in immigrant-dominated, impoverished neighbourhoods has garnered support for groups like the Sweden Democrats. After the influx of 163,000 asylum seekers during the 2015 Refugee Crisis, the Swedish government ended many of its generous asylum policies. Internationally, the Sweden Democrats’ electoral performance is part of a larger continental trend of increasingly popular, far-right parties amid growing anxiety over national identity, immigration, and global integration. Also, Sweden Democrats want to hold a referendum, or “Swezit”, over whether the country should remain or leave the EU. This proposal is largely unpopular in Sweden, but it shows how pervasive discontent is in the embattled regional bloc.


South Sudan’s parliament voted in mid-July to extend President Salva Kiir’s term in office until 2021 in effect postponing the presidential election slated for this year. This has been deemed to be detrimental to ongoing peace talks with opposition groups who have condemned the motion as illegal. The young county is plagued with sectarian and ethnic violence, which is a threat to stability in the region. There seems to be no end in sight for South Sudan’s protracted and compacted crises.