Elections to Watch in 2017
By Michael Svetlik, IFES Vice President of Programs
The dramatic and unexpected outcomes of some high-profile elections in 2016 – the narrow approval of Brexit, the rejection of the Colombia peace accord referendum and the surprising victory of Donald J. Trump – may make the elections in 2017 seem mundane by comparison. Yet, elections in two of the European Union’s largest economies (Germany and France), during a period of anti-incumbency and nativist tendencies, will make for interesting election watching. Also, the dynamics of two elections in Africa (Kenya and Liberia) will help shape the continued democratic evolution of the continent in a hopefully peaceful manner. Meanwhile, elections in the Americas and Southeast Asia, ranging from Haiti to Timor-Leste, will provide new tests of political resiliency and strength as these countries grapple with further development and consolidation shaped by both historical forces and new challenges to political stability.
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. Below are some of the most significant elections to watch in the coming year.
Haiti – January 29, 2017
Following multiple delays, including most recently due to Hurricane Matthew, first round presidential and legislative elections took place November 20, 2016. Under Haiti’s electoral system, if no candidate receives a majority of the votes for a particular office, the top two candidates square off in a second round, planned for late January 2017 when elections for a third of the Senate and long-awaited local elections will take place. The inauguration of a new president and seating of a new legislature in February will provide Haiti with a fully constituted government for the first time in more than a year.
Ecuador – February 2017
Incumbent President Rafael Correa is barred from running for a third term by the constitution’s two-term limit. Given the persistent dip in global oil prices and a stagnant economy, the ruling Alianza Pais party will need a new candidate to maintain their hold on the executive. In addition to a new president, voters will also elect 137 deputies to the National Assembly in General Elections.
Timor Leste – Presidential (March/April 2017) and Legislative Elections (June 2017)
Timor-Leste voters go to the polls twice in 2017, first to elect the president and a second time to elect 65 members of the National Parliament. Current President and former military commander Taur Matan Ruak is eligible for a second term under the Timorese constitution. The Parliament consists of 65 seats elected by proportional representation.
France – April or May 2017
With the governing Socialist party lagging in the polls, the Republicans’ party and the National Front will strongly contest presidential elections in which economic issues will be the focus. With incumbent François Hollande deciding not to run for re-election, the Republicans’ nominee, former Prime Minister François Fillon will likely face strong competition from the National Front’s Marie Le Pen. Given populism’s growing appeal across the continent, many observers see Le Pen as being as a strong contender in the second round.
Papua New Guinea – June/July 2017
Papua New Guinea voters head to the polls over multiple days to elect 111 members of the National Parliament. The global downturn in commodity prices has dampened economic growth projections and a planned austerity program for 2017 is expected to be a hotly debated campaign issue. The electoral system, includes limited preferential voting, with candidates for Parliament elected using an instant runoff whereby voters rank the top three candidates. Candidates must have a majority of votes to be elected; if there is no majority winner of first preference votes, the candidates with the least amount of votes are eliminated and the votes are transferred to the voters next preferred candidate until one candidate has at least half of the remaining votes.
Kenya – August 2017
In a highly polarized environment, President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to seek a second term in office against Raila Odinga, the main opposition leader who has run in the past two elections. Given the age provision in the constitution, this will be Odinga’s last shot at the presidency. Some 22 million Kenyans are expected to participate in general elections, with candidates for president, members of Parliament, senators, governors and members of county assemblies all on the ballot.
Germany – October 2017
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union is expected to face another test at the ballot box with challenges coming from all sides, including the hard-right Alternative for Germany party that has scored a string of victories in recent state elections. Voters will elect 598 members to the Bundestag for four-year terms. According to the mixed-member proportional electoral system, half of the Parliament is comprised of single-member constituencies, while half are allocated from party lists on a proportional basis.
Liberia – October 2017
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has announced she will step down as president, setting the stage for a competitive race that will likely include a number of candidates that have previously contested the presidency. Former footballer George Weah and former rebel leader Prince Johnson are expected to vie for the open seat. Elections will be held concurrently for 73 seats in the House of Representatives.
Kyrgyzstan – October 2017
President Almazbek Atambayev says that he will adhere to the conditions of the country's new constitutional provision that allows a president to serve only one six-year term. Given that past presidents have been removed through mass protests, and the country remains highly polarized, Atambayev’s stated intention to abide by the one-term limit is a welcomed development. A peaceful and orderly transition to a new President is seen as a test of Kyrgyz political institutions, including the Central Election Commission, as well as the political elite that compete for the presidency.
Honduras – November 2017
With the country's Supreme Court having struck down a law that banned presidents from seeking a second term, President Juan Orlando Hernández of the conservative National Party is likely to again contest for the presidency. The incumbent is expected to face, among others, Xiomara Castro, the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who will stand with the left-wing LIBRE party. Also on the ballot will be all 128 seats of the unicameral National Congress, elected to four-year terms by proportional representation.
Thailand – November 2017
With the passing of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the crowning of Maha Vajiralongkorn as king, the ruling military junta is determined to keep to the so-called road map to democracy. Under a new military-crafted constitution that was approved in a national referendum, the lower house of Parliament will be elected under a proportional voting system aimed at reducing the influence of Thailand’s major political parties.
South Korea – TBD
Following months of protests and opposition demands for her resignation, the National Assembly voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye on December 9, paving the way for early presidential elections in 2017. Park will formally be removed from office following review of the impeachment by the Constitutional Court. Elections would then follow within 60 days.
Italy – TBD
With Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stepping aside following the defeat of a referendum on constitutional reform, Italy’s leading populist opposition parties, including the Five Star Movement, and the anti-Europe, anti-immigrant Northern League, are calling for new elections. Ongoing disputes over electoral laws will only be addressed in January 2017 when the Constitutional Court is scheduled to issue a verdict on the current electoral system.