Elections to Watch in 2018
By Michael Svetlik, IFES Vice President of Programs
In 2018, from Brazil to Zimbabwe and Libya to Russia, the world will witness several significant elections that will likely underscore prevailing trends and dynamics in the practice of electoral politics. Recent concerns about the use of misinformation and election meddling by outside forces will continue to highlight the importance of the integrity of the election process, from voter registration to vote tabulation and campaign finance to the adjudication of electoral disputes. Voters and political contestants continue to insist upon the professional management of an election process that is transparent, credible and accountable. The free expression of the will of the people remains paramount.
Following on the success of the likes of Emanuel Macron in France and Donald Trump in the United States, outsider candidates will likely enjoy appeal within traditional political parties and as avatars of new political movements alike; and digital and social media will continue to evolve as an increasingly important means by which candidates and parties communicate with their supporters. Meanwhile, anti-corruption will continue to resonate with voters seeking those with “clean hands” in politics, just as others seek continuity and a strong hand in the struggle against extremism and violence.
As an organization dedicated to helping citizens have a voice in elections and assisting institutions to deliver electoral processes with integrity, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems is currently working in over 25 countries around the world. The elections below embody the tendencies and developments discussed above. These are the elections to watch in 2018 given their historical, regional or global significance.
Sierra Leone – March 7
Two years after being declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization, Sierra Leone is set to conduct general elections to elect the president, Parliament and local councils. Two-term President Ernest Bai Koroma is term limited by the constitution, and his handpicked candidate to succeed him will face tough competition.
Colombia – Legislative (March 11) and Presidential (May 27)
In the first elections since the 2016 peace accords were ratified by Congress, Colombians will elect all seats to the bicameral legislature and the presidency. Given Colombia’s weak party system, a coalition candidate will likely succeed current President Juan Manuel Santos. Under the terms of the peace agreement, the former Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) will hold 25 automatic seats in the next Congress and will campaign for others as the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force.
Russian Federation – March 18
Vladimir Putin appears poised for a second six-year term in office following his second ascendency to the Russian presidency in 2012, following a stint as prime minister. Opinion polls over the past year show the non-Putin vote split widely among a number of candidates, including both political neophytes and perennial contenders. The president is directly elected to a six-year term, with both political party affiliated and independent candidates allowed to stand.
Pakistan – April
Pakistan holds general elections under a new unified election law and an expected voter registry of over 100 million. A recently completed census – the first in nearly two decades – may affect constituent boundaries and seat allocations to provinces. A registration effort aims to address the “woman gap” as currently 12.1 million eligible women are not registered.
Egypt – May
Presidential elections will take place against the backdrop of ongoing structural economic reforms, including efforts to freely float the Egyptian pound. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is widely expected to seek a second term, and it remains to be seen if the opposition will unite behind a single candidate. The elections will be overseen by a new body, the National Election Authority, created by presidential decree in October 2017.
Mexico – July 1
Given recent tensions with the United States, the NAFTA trade agreement, economic issues, along with security, are expected figure prominently in general elections in which voters will elect a new president and 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 128 members of the Senate. Incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto is term limited according to the constitution. Former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador has declared his candidacy and will be contested by other party nominees.
Cambodia – July 29
Following the strong showing of opposition candidates in the 2016 local elections, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and Prime Minister Hun Sen look to extend their decades long rule. The main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party was banned in November 2017, bringing into question how competitive elections can be. Closing political space could tamper the rise of Cambodia’s economy.
Zimbabwe – July 31
The sudden resignation of Robert Mugabe in November 2017 creates a potential new day for political pluralism, following his 37 years in power. According to the constitution, general elections are scheduled to take place in 2018 with Zimbabweans electing 350 members of the bicameral legislature and the president, in a two-round system. Amid persistent economic decline and political upheaval, the ruling ZANU-PF holds the keys to the transformation of post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.
Mali – Presidential (July) and Parliamentary (November)
With Mali's government facing ongoing militancy in the north, presidential and parliamentary elections provide the opportunity to foster greater stability and peace with militant groups. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is expected to seek re-election. United Nations peacekeepers will play a large role in providing physical security for these elections, which are seen as important for regional stability. Growing social discontent ahead of the recently cancelled referendum signals an uphill battle for the ruling party.
Libya – September
Since December 2015 when Libya’s rival governments, the Council of Deputies and the General National Congress, agreed to the Libyan Political Agreement, a broad range of Libyan society has sought a framework to end the Libyan political crisis. With the adoption of the requisite constitutional and electoral framework expected soon, parliamentary and presidential elections are anticipated before the end of September.
Brazil – October 7
Brazil’s next general elections take place in wake of ongoing corruption scandals. Voters will elect the president and vice president, the National Congress, state governors and vice governors and state legislative assemblies. President Michel Temer, who succeeded former President Dilma Rousseff following her impeachment in 2016, is viewed as seriously corrupt and has a mere three percent approval rating. Former two-term president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – convicted on corruption charges and awaiting appeal – hopes to contest.
Bosnia and Herzegovina – October
Two decades since the first post-Dayton Accord elections, in an atmosphere of political stagnation, voters of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) will go to the polls to directly elect three members of the tripartite presidency of BiH, deputies at the national and two entity-level parliaments, and in 10 cantonal assemblies. Dayton structural arrangements account for some of the most complicated elections in the world, with thousands of candidates from Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups vying for seats in three levels of government that rely on ethnic-power sharing.
United States – November 6
President Donald J. Trump and the Republican party look to maintain control of Congress in mid-term elections in which all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate are on the ballot. The Democratic Party is well-positioned to gain seats in both chambers, as the party of a newly elected president has historically lost seats in Congress in the following mid-term election.
Thailand – November
Prime Minister and former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha who led the 2014 coup has indicated that elections will be held in 2018 to restore democracy to Thailand. Parliamentary elections will take place under a military-backed constitution that provides for a fully proportional voting system. Many view this reform as seeking to reduce the influence of major political parties and strengthen the role of the military. Laws governing political parties and campaigning remain to be completed.