Democracy’s resilience into the 21st century is rightly questioned. In 2017, a host of countries worldwide saw threats to civil and political liberties, popular participation, and fundamental human rights. Corruption and state capture by predatory political elites led the news in old and new democracies alike. Verbal and physical attacks on civil society, the press, and minorities were reported in virtually all world regions. And new virulent, nationalist ideologies threaten human rights and the carefully crafted post-World War II international liberal order.
Featured on both wanted posters and campaign posters in Pakistan, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is not alone. The founder of a group linked to the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba and now also the front of the Milli Muslim League party bears a striking resemblance to other rebels and terrorists turned politicians. Yet we have little systematic understanding of those candidates, or organizations, using armed and electoral strategies.
Rebooting the Franco-German locomotive of European integration is a key condition for reviving the fading EU project. Compromises will have to be made on fiscal and defence policies, and it is unclear whether the parties have the political capital necessary.
The election of pro-European Emmanuel Macron as president of France has reignited hopes that the so-called Franco-German engine, providing political impetus to European integration in the past decades, might be revived. While Macron’s election proved a rebuke to the populist challenge, it remains to be seen whether and how it will manage to rebalance the partnership with Berlin, which is overwhelmingly premised on Germany’s growing strength and clout at the European level. While pronouncing herself supportive of the new course in Paris, Chancellor Angela Merkel, like the rest of Europe, remains in a wait-and-see position regarding the ability of President Macron to fulfil his ambitious pro-EU agenda.
On May 19, the Islamic Republic of Iran holds presidential elections, the first following the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement. Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani is running against five other candidates, approved by Iran’s Guardian Council to compete in the election. The race has centred heavily on economic policies for tackling high unemployment and growing inequality, together with how to reintegrate the country into global financial platforms following the rollback of sanctions in the aftermath of the nuclear deal.
Policy decisions in Iran are largely devised through consensus among the various leadership figures represented in the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). The SNSC is headed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is the final arbiter on matters of national security, but the presidential role has proven capable of steering decisions towards moderate or radical positions. For European governments and businesses that have long dealt with the Islamic Republic, there is a clear distinction between the administrations of former presidents Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Rouhani.
Millions of people around the world went to the polls this year. The results provided plenty of surprises. British voters defied the pollsters and voted to leave the European Union. Colombians did much the same in rejecting their government’s peace deal with FARC, though Colombia’s president found a way to complete the deal a few months later without a vote. The biggest electoral surprise of all might have been in the United States, where Donald Trump defied the political experts and defeated Hillary Clinton. Perhaps 2017 will produce similarly surprising results. Here are ten elections to watch.