Elections: winter 2018

Cade Cowan, Senior Editor


Incumbent President and former prime minister Milos Zeman won the Czech presidential elections with 51.4 percent of the votes cast. The campaign centred around the key themes of immigration, populism and euroscepticism. Zeman is vocally opposed to migrants settling in the Czech Republic and doubts the ability of Muslims to integrate in to society. He used the fears and anxieties brought about by the 2015 refugee crisis to frame himself as a populist protector. There was some alleged russian interference through social media with accounts falsely accusing Jiri Drahos being a collaborator for the communist-era secret police. Domestically, it is arguable that Zeman’s electoral victory was also a victory for the country’s oligarch prime minister, Andrej Babis, who was appointed by Zeman and leads a shaky minority government. Zeman is intent on supporting Babis even though he is facing fraud charges and having difficulty forming a government. Internationally, he has been making closer ties with China and Russia. He even fought against European sanctions over the Crimean Crisis. He was against the European Union’s efforts to force member nations to take in migrants through a quota system, despite this, Zeman has reiterated his commitment to the European Union and NATO, but he is open to an in/out referendum similar to Brexit.



Two critical elections were held in Cyprus, one presidential election in the South and one parliamentary election in the North and both could have significant implications for the divided island both internationally and domestically. Incumbent President Nicos Anastasiades has won a second term in an election held early this year in the Republic of Cyprus, home of the Greek Cypriots, with a comfortable 56 percent of the votes cast. In the TRNC, home of the Turkish Cypriots, President Mustafa Akinci gave CTP Leader, and new Prime Minister,  Tufan Erhurman the mandate to form a government with a new four-party coalition after former Prime Minister Hüseyin Ozgürgün failed to find the support to form his own government. Domestically, the Republic of Cyprus is still in recovery after a crippling financial crisis and near economic collapse that led to drastic austerity measures. Domestically, the TRNC  has its own parliament and institutions, but is only recognised internationally by Turkey since it unilaterally declared independence in 1983 from the Republic of Cyprus. The TRNC survives on aid coming from Turkey has limited options for foreign trade. The TRNC’s precarious position in the global economy has forced northern leaders to impose austerity measures to maintain its finances. Without any clear end for the unification issue in sight, the election debate centred the north’s recurring ailments: corruption, citizenships given to Turkish nationals, and Turkey’s control over the pseudo-state. Erhurman’s CTP has typically defined itself through the Cyprus dispute and supporting unification. During this election cycle, the CTP has shifted its focus to pushing anti-corruption campaign. It has proposed a reform programme to establish an efficient public administration, increase productivity and manage a more equitable distribution of income. The enduring debate and controversy that binds the divided island is the prospect of reunification. The discovery of natural gas reserves in the Island’s EEZ and desperate European interest in an alternative to Russian sources has sparked an escalation in discussion in recent years. Both sides see this has a solution to their ongoing economic issues. The sporadic discussion facilitated by the UN have been stuttered, protracted, and contradictory in recent years. This is largely because these discussions are wrapped up in the internal politics of both sides and the continued influence of the North’s patron Turkey. Progress was made, then quickly undone in this years long, cat and mouse form of diplomacy. The most enduring proposed solution to this decades-long, territorial quagmire has been a bizonal agreement with two federal states, but whether this will come to past is yet to be determined.



Frequent Prime Minister Stephane Valeri’s Priority Monaco has won a landslide victory in the Principality of Monaco’s election for the National Council. This council has limited powers when compared to other constitutional monarchies as significant executive power is rested with the Prince, Albert II, and his Minister with the council mainly debating and voting on legislation rather than introducing it.



Incumbent President Ismael Omar Guelleh’s UMP had an overwhelming victory in Djibouti’s parliamentary election on February 23rd of this year. Guelleh’s party took 90 percent of the seats as most viable opposition parties boycotted due to transparency issues or alleged bias of the election commision. Divided and reluctant opposition parties have been key to Guelleh’s longtime electoral success. The questionable nature of Djibouti’s electoral process is nothing new, as the Human Rights Watch has criticized Guelleh for stifling opposition and abusing power, which entailed arbitrary detention of peaceful demonstrators and opposition leaders. The domestic and international implications of this election are inseparably linked, as Djibouti has inherent global significance as it encompasses the Horn of Africa making it geographically and strategically important to international trade, the Persian Gulf, and foreign militaries. The United States and China have permanent military bases in the country. The Chinese base in Djibouti is its first overseas. It has been claimed that rents from ports and military bases have been the key to maintaining Guelleh’s presidency. China has taken a particular interest in the country and has become its largest investor and source of debt. Observers have stated that this has become unsustainable and a threat to the nation’s sovereignty. Chinese interests own 82 percent of Djibouti’s external debt and have given billions in development and investment. In the context of the Horn of Africa, the foreign is domestic. Regionally, there is much going on recently in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea and Ethiopia are beginning rapprochement, including diplomatic relations and opening ports, after decades of frosty relations. Djibouti stands the most to lose as it serves as landlocked  Ethiopia’s only access to the sea and international trade, but Ethiopians may not only rely on this anymore. This new arrangement could affect Djibouti’s economy and prospects for foreign investment. These developments can be expected to continue while Guelleh is in power, which could prove to be a long time.



Cambodia’s ruling party, under control of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen, has won every seat in the country’s recent parliamentary elections. This involved many undemocratic tactics by the current government including dissolution of opposition, arrests of opposition leaders and the stripping of voting rights of thousands of opposing lawmakers and local council members who vote for senators. This gave the ruling party an enormous advantage. Domestically, this has been proclaimed as the beginning of a dictatorship with Hun Sen at the helm. Hun Sen has ruled since the fall of the Khmer Rouge and it is likely he is taking illiberal action to keep it that way. Internationally, this has led to sanctions from the United States and mounting threats of sanctions from the EU where Cambodia sends 43 percent of its exports and benefits from preferential trade.  Chinese investment and diplomatic support can be expected to continue as China is the country’s largest foreign donor and it has pledged to provide equipment and support for future elections in the absence of western help. This should be seen as part of China’s continued power projection in Southeast Asia.



Pakistan’s ruling party, PML-N, came out of March’s senatorial election as the upper houses largest party. Pakistan's Senate election is decided by an indirect ballot, with members of the provincial assemblies and the national assembly voting for nominees. The democratic process of this last election has been questioned by many involved. The PML-N and Imran Khan’s PTI  have both alleged there was wrongdoing in the electoral process. Khan even accused members of his own party of "selling" their votes, and he alleged some members had been offered roughly $365 000 for their support. Khan called for the Supreme Court and Election Commission to conduct an inquiry into the allegations. Nawaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N, also called for an investigation into the "rigging of the Senate elections". Other recent developments in Pakistan’s Senate is the election Sadiq Sanjrani, considered a political unknown, as chairman of the upper house of parliament by his fellow senators. His appointment was supported by opposition parties PPP and Khan’s PTI and a bloc of independents from Balochistan, Sanjrani’s province, who recently defected from the PML-N. Local media criticized this development as bad for Pakistan’s democracy and a perversion of its institutions. It is speculated that this unexpected political shake-up was the result of inference from Pakistan’s influential military which has been pivotal to the country's political history since independence. The military has spared with the PML-N government and the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif many times over the last couple years.



El Salvador’s right-wing opposition coalition won many victories in the country's recent legislative and municipal elections. This has been characterized as more of a referendum on Leftist President Salvador Sanchez Ceren rule than merely an election. This is widely thought to be a stunning defeat for Ceren’s FMLN. This is FMLN’s biggest defeat since first contesting elections. Domestically, El Salvador is suffering from massive debts and is the slowest growing economy in Central America. Internationally Ceren has shown sympathy and support for other controversial Latin American leaders such as Maduro in Venezuela and Ortega in Nicaragua. Most importantly, he recently withdrew his support and diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favour of closer ties with China. This led to a rebuke by the Trump Administration, and it is a sign of the growing influence China has achieved through its investments in Latin America and Africa.



Giuseppe Conte, a political unknown, is Italy’s newest Prime Minister after a hung parliament and months of political wrangling and protracted cabinet forming between President Sergio Mattarella and the leaders of the newly ascendant populist, eurosceptic parties. This muddled political landscape is par for the course in Italy as it has had over 65 governments since the end of the Second World War. It is arguable that power doesn’t lie with the new Prime Minister, but with the two party leaders of the newly formed coalition who serve in significant positions in the new cabinet. The Northern League’s Matteo Salvini and M5S’s Luigi Di Maio both ran on eurosceptic, anti-establishment, anti-migrant, populist platforms, and took a sizeable amount of votes in March’s general election. This election was largely democratic, but MS5 called out the new hybrid electoral systems as undemocratic as experts predicted mainstream parties would most benefit. Di Maio was proved wrong as his party did well despite the new electoral law. Domestically, Italy suffers from a fragile economy with slow growth and migrant crisis, which the new government could exasperate. The new government expects to cut taxes and potentially introduce universal basic income and other spending measures, which have investors and observers worried over a potential debt crisis. Internationally, this is a continuation of a worrying trend of far-right populism and Euroscepticism throughout Europe which has taken hold in Slovenia, Poland and elsewhere. This is especially troubling as the peninsula is the Euro Zone’s third-largest economy. This is troubling as the EU, particularly key members such as France and Germany, want greater integration and this period is widely considered to be a crucible for the regional bloc.



Julius Maada Bio, a former military commander and candidate for Sierra Leone People’s Party, won a runoff presidential election on March 27th of this year with over 51 percent of the vote. There were dramatics during the campaign and after the election was called which shows the fragility of Sierra Leone’s democracy. There was violence at political rallies, heated accusations between the candidates, and a strong military presence in Freetown, the nation’s capital, which serves to show the volatile nature of the electoral process in Sierra Leone. This is to be expected as the country is still healing from a civil war that lasted over a decade and divided the nation regionally, politically, and tribally. This election has major domestic implications. Bio has promised to end the corruption and mishandling of public money and to create an investigative commision and authorize the courts to look into the grafting of the previous government, especially the mishandling of funds that were meant to combat the 2014 Ebola Crisis. Internationally, Bio’s administration will have a more difficult battle on its hands. Bio must convince foreign donors, including the International Monetary Fund, to trust his new administration with their aid, as this was limited due to the previous government’s failure to implement economic reforms. Funds from a $224m loan package negotiated last summer with the IMF were held back because the government of the day failed to implement stronger enforcement of import taxes and collection of market-rate royalties on mineral exports.



In Colombia’s recent general elections conservative parties, most importantly the Democratic Centre, won most of the seats. This election is significant in that it is the first election to feature FARC as a political party rather than a Guerilla group. This election does not bode well for political stability in Colombia. Some of the most successful parties this past March have also been the ones most opposed to the new peace accord with FARC. Many in the Democratic Centre and in Colombia, in general, feel the accord is too lenient to former guerrillas and legitimizes them unwisely with guaranteed seats in the congress and senate. Despite this advantage, FARC performed even worse than expected. The Democratic Centre also won the presidency later in the year, and this could very well mean the two groups are primed for a polarizing clash.



Former Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel won a one-party election to become the first president of Cuba since the revolution not to be a Castro. Raul Castro will stay on as leader of the Communist Party, a nearly equal position to the president. It is safe to say that Cuba’s one-party election was far from the democratic ideal as the candidates, independent or not, were selected and approved by party-controlled commissions. These elections are marketed to be a symbolic show of unity in the face of foreign threats rather than debates on leadership or policy. Domestically, there has been mounting pressure to modernize the economy, reform the markets and raise living standards while under U.S. Sanctions. This is difficult when aid from Venezuela has ended, and the detente spearheaded by Barack Obama has been dramatically reversed under Trump. Many in the U.S. Cuban Exile community, including Senator Marco Rubio, has asked the president to condemn the election as legitimizing a dictatorship. Cuba has accused the United States of ramping up the blockade tactics and invoking Cold War-style rhetoric. It is also important to note that this new president will not have the clout, respect and moral authority associated with his revolutionary predecessors as he was born after the revolution. He will have to appease his people through policy successes rather than a call to patriotism and loyalty.



Incumbent Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, quickly becoming the longest-serving prime minister in the Caribbean, and his NNP won a clean sweep of all 15 seats in Grenada’s House of Representatives which is the third time this party has achieved this feat. There was some limited questioning of the electoral process. It was reported that voters were complaining that there were multiple types of ballot paper at the polling stations across the country, but Grenada’s Parliamentary Electoral Office strongly refuted that claim. The domestic issues that Grenada faces are similar to many island nations in a globalized world plagued by climate change. Grenada also faces significant danger during the annual hurricane season, which is especially political because of the devastating impact of 2004’s Hurricane Ivan. The new government will have to encourage development, bolster the economy, as well as lobby internationally against climate change. Quite fortunately, close to half of the House of Representatives is now female.



President Vladimir Putin, a controversial figure in world politics, secured a fourth term in the Russian Presidential Elections that took place on March 18th of this year.  He managed to win the election with over 76 percent of the votes cast. This has been characterized by critics as being more of a referendum on his rule rather than a choice between viable alternatives. Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader, has alleged that he was barred from running due to trumped-up fraud charges. He is not alone in his criticism of supposed undemocratic motives of the Kremlin. This election, or coronation as some have called it, has significant consequences domestically. Putin has routinely stretched the constitutional mandates concerning presidential tenure, and Russian elites are now pondering what a post-Putin Russia would look like and how to manage a potential fallout from a transition in leadership. Internationally, Putin’s continued presence as a world leader has even more profound implications. This year he has sparred with European leaders such as Angela Merkel and Theresa May in headline capturing dramatics all while continued controversies in East Ukraine and with Trump’s America cast long shadows over his upcoming term.