Elections to Watch in 2014
By: Michael Svetlik, Vice President, Programs
Upholding the right of the individual to participate freely in the political process will be critical in this year of elections and political change. The power of an individual’s voice can only be fully realized through a transparent, inclusive and efficient process. Across the world several elections will have the burden of helping a nation take steps forward, setting new precedents and easing political tensions.
Asia will see several significant electoral contests, including those in Afghanistan and Indonesia. The Middle East and North Africa is poised for further tests of democratic reforms in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. Latin America seeks security and the continued consolidation of democracy with key elections in El Salvador, Colombia and Brazil. In Africa, the failure of politics in Central African Republic and South Sudan has resulted in a violent struggle for power; South Africa will also conduct elections just months following the death of political icon Nelson Mandela. The year concludes with legislative elections in the United States, which could sharpen the partisan rancor that has characterized American politics in recent years.
Asia’s busy year began with general elections in Bangladesh on January 5 following two months of opposition-led general strikes that brought the country to a standstill in late 2013. Diplomatic efforts to reach a compromise to stave off an opposition boycott of the poll proved futile, and the Prime Minister’s party moved ahead with the vote. The election was marred by violence – some 100 polling stations were torched and 17 deaths reported – cementing a political impasse that has steered Bangladesh toward continued unrest.
In Thailand, amid an atmosphere of equally heightened tension and political brinksmanship, early general elections are planned for February 2. These snap elections were triggered by the dissolution of Parliament following weeks of sometimes violent protests of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government. The opposition continues to threaten a boycott, and persistent street violence increases the likelihood of army or judicial intervention.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, with incumbent President Hamid Karzai term-limited, Afghan voters go to the polls to elect a new President on April 5. The election will be governed by two laws passed last year, including one that lays out the composition and rules for Afghanistan’s election commission and a separate commission to adjudicate complaints about voter fraud and other irregularities. The race will be contested by 11 candidates. Interest in a credible poll remains high among the international community, as continued security and financial support is at stake.
In a significant test of democratic consolidation, Indonesia holds legislative elections on April 9 followed by presidential elections on July 9. Public opinion polls show a sharply divided political field in what could be the most closely contested election in the nation's history. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is completing his second and last term, and a field of ambitious political parties and presidential candidates are stepping forward to compete in Indonesia’s fifth national elections since the end of Suharto’s rule. Potentially narrow margins of victory will require a more effective and credible electoral process than previously achieved.
Middle East and North Africa
In 2014, Egypt again finds itself on the threshold of a new series of electoral events. Following the army’s removal of President Mohammed Morsi last July, a rapid transition established by interim President Adly Mansour envisioned the recently conducted constitutional referendum to amend the 2012 constitution on January 14-15, parliamentary elections in March and presidential elections months later. These polls take place against the recent government designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and are widely construed as a verdict on the army’s recent actions against the organization.
With sectarian violence intensifying in Iraq, parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 30. The elections – the third since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the first since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011 – will determine the members of the Council of Representatives who will elect the President and Prime Minister. Incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is seeking re-election to a third term amid calls for a more inclusive, conciliatory approach to governing.
Following months of turbulence since the killing of Mohamed Brahimi in July, Tunisia’s political leadership recently reached a compromise in which Prime Minister Ali Larayedh agreed to step down, making way for a caretaker administration that will govern until elections are held later this year. In mid-January, Tunisia's National Assembly started to approve pieces of a new constitution – hoped to be fully adopted by the end of the month.
Two years following the political settlement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Yemen remains in transition. With the national dialogue continuing, Yemen will engage in drafting a new constitution and conduct a constitutional referendum. Should the draft document gain public approval, elections of Parliament and President are expected to follow.
Latin America hosts a number of significant elections that puts security, economic growth and social policy at the forefront. In a hotly-contested presidential election, voters of El Salvador go to the polls on February 2. The contest is widely seen as choice between embracing the status quo of a social democracy of the incumbent Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN)or a return to the pro-business policies of the past. With the opposition split, most expect a second round.
Parliamentary elections in Colombia are set to take place March 9 and the first round of the presidential poll will be May 25. President Juan Manuel Santos has declared his intention to seek a second term, allowing him to shepherd a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
In Brazil, presidential campaigning got off to an early start with President Dilma Rousseff declaring her intention to seek a second term. General elections will be held on October 5 to elect the President, National Congress, state governors and legislatures. With the governing Worker’s Party in power for the past decade, many see the contest as a choice between continuity and change. The likelihood of a second round presidential ballot is high, should the opposition remain unified.
This region experienced a number of critical elections in 2013, including Guinea, Mali and Kenya. Africa begins the year with a focus on the breakdown of political order in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) and South Sudan. As CAR and South Sudan unravel and sectarian and communal violence escalates, the international community scrambles to forestall these crises and pursue strategies for the restoration of order, peace and responsive governance.
In admittedly the most significant and closely watched election on the continent, South Africa heads to the polls for general elections in March. In the fifth national election since the end of apartheid in 1994, 400 seats in the National Assembly and new provincial legislatures are at stake. The ruling African National Congress faces increasing pressure over corruption and slow economic growth.
On November 4, legislative elections take place in the United States, with all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate up for election. Additionally, elections will be held for the governorships of 36 states and three territories. President Barack Obama is now in his second and final term of office, and control of both legislative houses is in the balance. With public approval ratings for Congress at historic lows, the party not in control of the White House is traditionally the best positioned to gain seats. With health care, as well as social and economic policies likely to be the deciding factor in many races, many believe the Republican Party may gain control of the Senate. Given the sharp partisan differences between President Obama and the opposition, a political gridlock will likely serve as a prelude to the 2016 presidential elections.
Elections, no matter the developmental or historical context, or the issues at play, continue to serve as the primary means by which individuals can shape the future and wellbeing of their communities, and hold their elected leaders accountable. Working together, policy makers, election officials and political parties all have a role to play in ensuring the individual’s voice is heard. At the end of the day, it is the individual – the end user of the election process and of democracy itself – that must be the focus if democracy is to thrive and endure.