With 2018 in the rear-view mirror, some of the world’s largest, most influential, and most volatile states prepare to elect their heads of government this year. Below, five countries whose presidential races – or attempts at hosting presidential races – will help shape the political impact of 2019.
The government of Afghanistan confirmed this weekend that the 2019 presidential elections will occur on July 20, raising a host of questions regarding the nation’s democratic norms and ability to maintain security for voters in light of ongoing, and increasingly frustrating, peace negotiations with the Taliban. The July date pushes the election back from April 20, the original election day; government officials cite “security, operational, and technical related issues” making that deadline impossible.
Afghanistan will begin registering presidential candidates today, meaning a full list of the candidates is not yet available, though incumbent President Ashraf Ghani will likely appear on the ballot.
Who wins the Afghan presidential election is less important than whether the country can pull off organizing a nationwide election without major intervention by the Taliban. The Taliban rejected yet another call for direct talks with Ghani’s government this weekend, insisting that they had gained too much ground to bother entertaining Ghani. The Taliban has repeatedly rejected talks with Ghani because they consider themselves the legitimate government of Afghanistan and Ghani merely a puppet of the United States.
U.S. peace talks with the Taliban could also endanger the election, as reports suggest that the Trump administration is seeking a FARC-like peace deal that would legitimize the Taliban as an Afghan political party. In the unlikely event that such a deal is signed before the election, there is a non-negligible possibility that the Taliban itself fields a presidential candidate.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, held its first successful democratic transfer of power in 2015, when incumbent Goodluck Jonathan lost to former dictator Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari won the presidency largely on his promise to eradicate the Boko Haram threat in northeastern Nigeria, a promise he has entirely failed to live up to despite repeatedly declaring victory against the terrorist group as early as December 2015.
The 2019 election is pivotal for the future of Nigeria not just because of the prolonged Boko Haram threat, but because it will be a test of whether the 2015 election was a mere fluke or whether Nigeria has fully embraced democratic institutions. Democratic traditions are built over time, and the lack of overt threat of a military takeover or coup d’etat bodes well for the state so far.
Democracy is so in demand in Nigeria that, by October, 79 political parties had registered to field candidates in the 2019 election. In the regional legislative elections, 89 parties registered to run candidates. Yet the frontrunners remain the candidate for the two major parties: Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The campaign has already turned bitter – Buhari’s campaign is accusing Abubakar of having a sealed indictment against him for corruption in the United States, while Buhari has had to deny that he is a clone of himself deployed to replace the real, dead Buhari. According to some estimates, as Buhari kept some of his medical treatment for unspecified conditions a secret, he spent up to 15 percent of his term abroad receiving healthcare.
Argentina was the first major country in the Americas to turn rightward after the early 21st-century wave of leftist presidents took over the region – including the United States, as former Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri took over the country before President Donald Trump won the 2016 election. Macri won his election largely in response to the tremendous backlash against leftist predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s ties to the Venezuelan dictatorship and Iran’s Islamic theocracy in the aftermath of the “suicide” of the prosecutor investigating Iranian terrorism in Argentina, Alberto Nisman.
Despite running as a pro-business candidate, Macri’s biggest challenge in 2019 will be justifying the languishing status of his nation’s economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently gave Argentina a $56 billion credit line to fix its recession, the largest ever, which only exacerbated concerns that the Argentine peso’s value is about to plummet. The economic situation has deteriorated to a point that speculation has begun that Kirchner will attempt to reclaim the presidency from Macri despite an ongoing corruption investigation and the still-unresolved status of the Nisman murder.
It is impossible to fully assess the status of the Argentine election until candidates, Kirchner in particular, confirm their running status. Whoever confronts Macri, however, will have to navigate residual bitterness from the Kirchner presidency – and fear of becoming another Venezuela under yet more socialist rule – to adequately use Macri’s woeful economy against him.
Canada’s is not technically a presidential election, but the nation will choose its head of government in October 2019 through its parliamentary elections, granting the nation a chance to review the record of leftist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau will face off against Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party, attempting to run on issues such as environmental regulation and regional trade.
Conservatives appear eager to discuss environmental regulation under Trudeau; this summer, Scheer “spelled out “the Carbon Tax!” in black marker on a white plate, donned safety glasses, and smashed it in a gleeful if somewhat cheesy performance of the traditional Greek celebration” at a political event. In parts of Canada dependent on the energy industry for its economy, Trudeau is highly unpopular, facing boos even at the peak of his popularity nationwide.
Trudeau is also running as a sort of “anti-Trump” for the region, repeatedly referencing the alleged polarization of the Western political climate and how embracing leftist policies can temper its effect. The campaign, for now, appears to be working, though not by much – early polls show Trudeau’s Liberals with a four-point lead over the Conservatives, whose major challenge will be Scheer’s relatively lackluster name recognition.
Few doubt that longtime socialist leader Evo Morales will win Bolivia’s 2019 presidential election, scheduled to take place in October. What makes this election interesting is the growing concern that it will neither be free nor fair, as Morales should not legally be allowed to appear on the ballot in the first place.
Bolivia held a referendum on term limits in 2016, and the people spoke clearly: they did not want Morales to have the ability to run for yet another turn. Morales responded to this news by turning to the nation’s Supreme Court, which ruled in December that, despite the referendum, Morales’ name should appear on the ballot. If he wins, Morales will begin his fourth term in office.
Opponents call the Supreme Court move a “slow-motion coup” and organizers have planned protests attended by thousands against Morales. Morales is currently facing five official opponents, the most prominent of which is former president Carlos Mesa, who has made the questionable legality of the Supreme Court ruling a key issue in his campaign.
The two biggest questions this election poses are whether Mesa can effectively unite the anti-Morales opposition and, in the case that he does, whether Morales’ government will allow a free and fair vote, anyway.