Photo credit to letyg84 / 123RF.
Over the past 12 months, the world witnessed a pivotal general election in India, presidential elections in Indonesia, congressional midterm elections in the United States, European parliamentary elections and elections (of varying competitiveness) in over a dozen of additional countries in the world, all pivotal in their own ways — Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, South Africa, Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Serbia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Belgium, Sweden and independence referenda in Scotland and Catalunya.
After such a crowded 2014 calendar, it’s not surprising that 2015 will not bring the same volume of electoral activity. But there’s still plenty at stake, especially as volatile oil prices, Chinese economic slowdown and the return of recession in Europe and Japan could stifle global economic potential. The most important of those elections that will determine policy that affects the lives of billions of people worldwide.
Without further ado, here is Suffragio‘s guide to the top 15 elections to watch as 2015 unfolds — beginning in Greece, where the government fell earlier this week.
1. Greece: January 25
With the third and final attempt — and failure — by Greece’s parliament to elect a new president, prime minister Antonis Samaras moved to dissolve the parliament and call snap elections for January 25.
Samaras leads the center-right New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία), the largest party in a fragile coalition government that has struggled to maintain unity in the face of grueling budget cuts and other austerity measures, amid economic contraction and staggering unemployment that only began to reverse in 2014.
Alexis Tsipras (pictured above), the leader of the hard-left SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) will campaign on the premise that he can negotiate a better deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to lighten Greece’s debt burden and alleviate the crunch of budget austerity. While polls today give SYRIZA a narrow, single-digit lead, Samaras is a seasoned campaigner who will argue that a vote for SYRIZA endangers the sacrifices Greece has already made. The race’s outcome could impact both the future course of European economic policy and the European political discourse.
If the far-right, neo-fascist Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή) continues to thrive among the Greek electorate, however, it will make it even more difficult for either Tsipras or Samaras to form a majority government within the 300-member unicameral parliament, potentially forcing another set of elections in February or March.
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2. Nigeria — February 14
presidential and parliamentary elections
Goodluck Jonathan (pictured above), who rose to the presidency in 2010 upon the death of Umaru Yar’Adua, will run for reelection as the candidate of the governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP), despite breaking an unofficial rule that the PDP’s presidents must alternate between Muslim northerners (like Yar’Adua) and Christian southerners (like Jonathan and former president Olusegun Obasanjo).
That’s provided an opening to the All Progressives Congress (APC), a unified front of Nigeria’s three largest opposition parties and disgruntled northern defectors from the PDP. Nigeria last year surpassed South Africa to become the continent’s largest economy. But tanking oil prices could dent its economic outlook for the future, and the rise of Boko Haram and other Islamist radical groups have made Jonathan look weak, both vis-à-vis terrorist groups and the Nigerian military.
The APC has selected Muhammadu Buhari as its candidate. Buhari served as the leader of Nigeria’s military government between December 1983 and August 1985, but he is running in his fourth presidential election. While Buhari and the Nigerian military overthrew an elected administration in 1983, Buhari’s ‘War Against Indiscipline’ and his strong anti-corruption credentials make him an appealing choice to combat the widespread graft in Nigerian government. His military background also gives him credibility that he can more effectively fight Boko Haram, and Obasanjo has indicated he may buck the PDP to support Buhari.
The election will be fought largely on north-south lines, and the APC’s victory and a peaceful transfer of power from Jonathan to Buhari would demonstrate Nigeria’s deepening commitment to democratic institutions. But the danger in Buhari’s victory is that it could bring a growing and potentially ominous return of the military to political life.
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3. Israel — March 17
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is wagering that, as much as Israel’s electorate may be tiring of him, there’s no one else with enough political strength to deny him a third consecutive term.
That’s one reason why Netanyahu (pictured above) may have called early elections for March after firing justice minister Tzipi Livni and finance minister Yair Lapid, both of whom lead centrist parties that warily joined Netanyahu’s coalition after the January 2013 elections. This time around, Livni has joined forces with Isaac Herzog, the leader of the center-left Labor Party (מפלגת העבודה הישראלית), and polls show that their electoral coalition will vie with Netanyahu’s center-right Likud (הַלִּכּוּד) for first place.
Polls also show, however, that the broad Israeli right will gain seats at the expense of the broad Israeli left. But the space on the Israeli right is becoming more congested these days. It includes Netanyahu’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (ישראל ביתנו, ‘Israel is Our Home’) decoupled from its one-time merger with Likud; Netanyahu’s economy minister and former chief of staff Naftali Bennett, who leads the even more right-wing Bayit Yehudi (הבית היהודי, ‘The Jewish Home’) and who criticized Netanyahu last summer for not striking Gaza hard enough; and Moshe Kahlon, the former communications minister who recently formed a new center-right party, Kulanu (כולנו, ‘All of Us’). Netanyahu himself only narrowly avoided a challenge from former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar for the Likud leadership, which Netanyahu secured in a party ballot yesterday.
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4. United Kingdom: May 7
Nevertheless, British prime minister David Cameron (pictured above) is in surprisingly strong shape for his bid for reelection. The economy is regaining speed, either because of or in spite of the budget cuts introduced by chancellor George Osborne. That’s even though the Tories have hemorrhaged some of their support to the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), whose leader Nigel Farage is by far a more colorful politician than any UK party leader today, with the possible exception of Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson.
Cameron’s junior partners, the Liberal Democrats, face a drubbing under their beleaguered leader Nick Clegg. Though polls still give Labour a very narrow lead, Ed Miliband is hardly the kind of leader that British voters see as prime ministerial material, and even former prime minister Tony Blair openly disparages Miliband’s chances. Labour, which only narrowly preferred Ed to his brother, former foreign secretary David Miliband in the 2010 leadership race, is increasingly having second thoughts.
Meanwhile, the shift in public opinion in Scotland, where voters came far closer than anyone imagined to voting themselves out of the United Kingdom last September, is likely to deliver most Scottish seats to the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP).
All of which means we could see another Tory-Lib Dem coalition, a right-wing Tory-UKIP coalition, or even a Labour-SNP coalition.
The stakes couldn’t be more important, however. The campaign will address issues like the economy and the National Health Service, but also the constitutional and structural issues that linger as fallout from the Scottish referendum. Above all, the election will determine the country’s future in the European Union. Cameron, if reelected, has promised to renegotiate the UK’s EU membership and hold a referendum on leaving the European Union in 2017.
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5. Ethiopia: May 24
There should be no doubt that Ethiopia will hold free and fair elections like a ‘normal’ democratic country — following the death of prime minister Meles Zenawi in 2012, the country has become even more repressive in many ways, most especially with respect to press freedom and the treatment of the Oromo people.
But the elections could tell us a lot about the future direction of Ethiopia’s government. Since Meles’s death, Hailemariam Desalegn (pictured above) has served as the first prime minister from the south of Ethiopia. There’s nevertheless speculation that Hailemariam is a figurehead, and the real power lies with Ethiopian military leaders and other officials within the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (the TPLF, ሕዝባዊ ወያኔ ሓርነት ትግራይ), itself the most important component within the broader governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, or የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝቦች አብዮታዊ ዲሞክራሲያዊ ግንባር).
Ethiopia is seeking to issue its first international bonds, even as it remains locked in a diplomatic struggle with Egypt over water rights to the Blue Nile. Ethiopia is also a key US ally in the Horn of Africa, a geostrategic theater in US anti-terror efforts, especially as Kenya increasingly becomes a target of Somali terrorist activity.
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6. Turkey: June 13
In many regards, the more important Turkish election took place last August, when Turkish voters selected former prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as its first directly elected president.
Erdoğan is not shy that he believers that election gave him a mandate for constitutional change to transform Turkey back into a presidential republic. He has started chairing cabinet meetings, and he has made clear that the 2015 parliamentary elections, which will determine all 550 members of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi) will be a referendum on giving more power to the Turkish presidency.
Leading the effort for Erdoğan’s Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) will be his hand-picked prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu (pictured above, left, with Erdoğan), who will attempt to win the two-thirds majority necessary to amend Turkey’s constitution.
A slate of new parties spinning off from both the AKP and the secular, formerly Kemalist center-left Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party) hope to break through in June. Under the leadership of the dynamic Selahattin Demirtaş, the Kurdish-interest Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP, Peace and Democracy Party) also hopes to win a significant number of seats. Unless the opposition to Erdoğan unites, however, it is unlikely that the AKP will lose its parliamentary majority, even though Turkish voters are genuinely split over Erdoğan, his Islamist party and what many believe is his growing authoritarianism.
One question will be whether Erdoğan’s one-time ally and presidential predecessor, Abdullah Gül, supports the AKP in 2015.
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7. Burundi: June 26 / July 27
Though it would violate the terms of the Arusha accords that ended Burundi’s civil war, which was hardly much less brutal than the more famous dispute in neighboring Rwanda, Pierre Nkurunziza is nonetheless prepared to run for reelection to a third five-year term in 2015.
There’s no doubt that the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, will continue to hold power after 2015, but if Nkurunziza (pictured above) wins reelection, it could endanger the fragile peace of the past decade, plunging Burundi back into war. The prior year has already been marked by Nkurunziza’s attempts to limit freedom of assembly (including, incredibly, jogging in the capital city of Bujumbura) and a rise in political violence perpetrated by the Imbonerakure, a pro-government youth militia, just as the United Nations is winding down its peacekeeping operations.
The unrest comes at a time when Burundi’s government would be wiser to instead focus on fostering closer trade links with neighboring countries, building stronger infrastructure and attracting investment to develop some of the world’s deepest nickel reserves.
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8. Mexico: July 5
midterm congressional elections
Though he must have hoped that 2015’s midterm congressional elections would be a referendum on his economic, energy and telecommunications reforms, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto (pictured above) will instead face an electorate angry about the climate of drug violence and corruption that has plagued large swaths of Mexico for over a decade, catalyzed by protests against the torture and murder of 43 students last September near Iguala, in the state of Guerrero.
For a country with more democratic choice than ever, Mexicans today have little faith in any political solution to the country’s problems. Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party), which dominated Mexican government from 1929 to 2000, is once again unpopular and unloved. Just three years removed from the back-to-back presidencies of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón, the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party) doesn’t boast much popularity, either, and shares much of the blame for Mexico’s descent into violence.
Meanwhile, the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD, Party of the Democratic Revolution) is falling apart. Andrés Manuel López Obrador left the party in 2012 after his second failed presidential bid. Former Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard, the PRD’s presumed 2018 presidential candidate, spent much of 2014 fighting with his successor Miguel Ángel Mancera over the city’s subway system, and Ebrard lost a bid to head the party earlier this autumn. Party founder and two-time presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas resigned from the party in November.
All told, it makes for a particularly grim backdrop to midterm elections in 2015.
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9. Canada: October 19
The Liberal Party, pushed into third place under the ineffective leadership of Michael Ignatieff in 2011, rebounded nearly overnight as a potent force in federal Canadian politics when it anointed Justin Trudeau (pictured above) as its leader in 2013.
But winning this year’s elections will be trickier than showing up with a pretty face and the pedigree of one of Canada’s most fondly remembered prime ministers (Pierre Trudeau was Justin’s father). The Liberals will likely face the most successful center-right prime minister in decades in the Conservative Party’s Stephen Harper. Polls give the Liberals a slight edge over the Tories, but most observers believe it will be a close race. Like most Canadian elections, the Harper-Trudeau showdown will depend on voters in Ontario and in Québec.
There’s good news in Ontario for both major parties. Conservatives can look to the October 2014 Toronto mayoral election, where two right-of-center candidates, including the winner, John Tory, won over 74% of the vote. Trudeau’s supporters will point to the Ontario Liberal Party’s success in winning a fourth consecutive mandate (and a majority government, at that) under premier Kathleen Wynne in June.
Québec is trickier to forecast. For now, the separatist movement is at its weakest point in decades after the spectacular failure of the Parti québécois to win snap elections in April 2014 designed to renew the mandate of (now former) premier Pauline Marois. In the 2011 national election, no one joined the ‘orange wave’ with more fervor than Québec, where the progressive New Democratic Party (NDP) won 59 out of 75 ridings, power it to become the official opposition under Jack Layton, who died of cancer just months later.
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10. Argentina: October 25 / November 24
presidential and parliamentary elections
After 12 years of kirchnerismo, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will step down from the Argentine presidency in late 2015. Argentina’s economy was already stumbling at the time of the 2013 midterm elections and in the meanwhile, foreign reserves and the Argentine peso have dwindled and inflation is still untamed. Kirchner routinely indulges Argentine populist anger over the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, and the country came to the brink of technical default over its high-profile fight with a US hedge fund and US courts.
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s her former chief of cabinet, Sergio Massa, now the mayor of Tigre, who is the slight frontrunner to replace her under the banner of the newly formed Frente Renovador (Renewal Front), a more business-friendly brand of peronismo. Massa’s Renewal Front won more support in Buenos Aires province than any other party in the October 2013 midterm congressional elections, and Massa (pictured above) likes to triangulate himself between the kirchneristas and the country’s conservatives.
Kirchner’s party, the Partido Justicialista (PJ, Justicialist Party), is likely to back Daniel Scioli, vice president from 2003 to 2007 under Kirchner’s late husband, Néstor, and the current governor of Bueons Aires province. Not to be underestimated is Mauricio Macri, currently the head of government (essentially, mayor) of the city of Buenos Aires and a leader of the Propuesta Republicana (PRO, Republican Proposal), a center-right Argentine party.
With each of the three candidates now winning around a third of the vote, the top two candidates are likely to face off in a November runoff that could force an economic policy u-turn in one of South America’s most important countries.
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11. Poland: before October
By doing so, he avoided what was always going to be a difficult fight for a third consecutive term for the center-right Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform). Ewa Kopacz (pictured above), who succeeded Tusk as prime minister, nevertheless begins in a strong position, with the government leading Europe’s most aggressive posture against renewed Russian aggression.
National politics is still a battle between competing visions of the Polish right, and so Kopacz’s chief opponent will come not from the left, but from the conservative Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS, Law and Justice) of former prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński. Among the most important policy issues, with profound consequences as Poland becomes one of the key power brokers in the European Union, is whether Poland is actually serious about joining the eurozone.
One early test will be Poland’s direct presidential elections, in which Bronisław Komorowski is expected to run for (and likely win) reelection. The PO candidate in 2010, Komorowski narrowly defeated Kaczyński that year after a tragic airplane crash in Russia killed a cross-segment of the Polish political elite, including Kaczyński’s twin brother and president at the time, Lech Kaczyński.
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12. Burma/Myanmar: November
If there’s one set of elections that are almost impossible to predict, it’s the cycle that Burma/Myanmar promises to hold later in 2015. Myanmar is gradually liberalizing its economy and its politics, with encouragement from the United States and the European Union.
The chief question is whether the opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD, အမျိုးသား ဒီမိုကရေစီ အဖွဲ့ချုပ်) and its leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, deems the elections free and fair enough to participate. The NLD, which won national elections in 1990 that were subsequently ignored by the ruling military junta, boycotted the 2010 elections. One key issue is whether the ruling party will agree to allow Suu Kyi (pictured above) to contest the presidency when Thein Sein is expected to stand down after the parliamentary vote. Furthermore, after the government canceled by-elections scheduled for late 2014, there’s reason to doubt that 2015 will be an inflection point for Burmese democracy.
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13. Venezuela: December
It’s been a rough year and a half for Nicolás Maduro, who assumed Venezuela’s presidency just as the country’s foreign reserves were about to run out, its non-oil economy atrophied and its state oil company’s revenues had already diminished by a third. And that was before global oil prices fell nearly 50%.
If Maduro (pictured above) survives the economic turmoil of 2015, he’ll face the wrath of voters in December when the country elects all 165 members of its unicameral parliament, the Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly), which could give Venezuela’s opposition its first electoral victory in nearly two decades. Though Maduro only narrowly defeated Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles in the April 2013 vote that followed the death of former president Hugo Chávez, cracks have developed within the opposition coalition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, the Democratic Unity Roundtable). That’s especially true after Leopoldo López, currently in prison on politically motivated charges, pushed for a more aggressive opposition against chavismo in 2014.
Jesus Torrealba, the new secretary-general of the MUD, has worked to pull the Capriles and López camps further into harmony. If successful, the opposition could not only capture the Venezuelan parliament but also force a recall vote on Maduro in spring 2016.
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14. Spain: before December
That’s the fundamental fact animating Spain’s upcoming general election, when the center-right Partido Popular (PP, People’s Party) of prime minister Mariano Rajoy will seek a second term. It’s been a rocky four years for Rajoy, who avoided a humiliating bailout at the expense of budget cuts, tax increases and the eurozone’s second-highest unemployment rate. Rajoy has increasingly exacerbated tensions with Catalunya, where regional president Artur Mas is carrying the banner of separatism against an especially tone-deaf central government, and his refusal to countenance a debate on federalism could exacerbate separatist sentiment elsewhere in Spain, including the Basque Country.
But voters also blame the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) for having started the process of austerity that Rajoy has only furthered. Its new leader, Pedro Sánchez, is more dynamic than Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, but he’s also an untested quantity.
Disillusionment with both major parties provides an opening for far-left groups and regional parties to thrive, none more so than Podemos, a stridently anti-austerity movement that arose from the indignado movement of outraged unemployed Spaniards. Podemos and its unlikely leader, academic Pablo Iglesias (pictured above), has shot into the lead in several polls, threatening to scramble the Spanish political order that’s existed since the end of the Franco regime.
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15. Haiti: TBD
presidential and parliamentary elections
Amid protests in Port-au-Prince, Haitian president Michel Martelly (pictured above) reached a deal on December 30 to extend the Haitian congressional mandate until elections can be held in a country that still hasn’t fully recovered from the damage of the January 2010 earthquake that leveled the capital and much of the surrounding area.
Under the deal, staggered parliamentary elections will take place later in 2015, when Haitian voters are also set to elect a new president. For now, however, none of those elections are scheduled just yet.
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Still reading? Here are 15 more elections worth watching over the course of 2015:
- Zambia: January 20 (presidential election). The race is on to succeed the late Michael Sata, who died in October. The frontrunner is justice and defense minister Edgar Lungu, who will represent Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) party, despite efforts by outgoing acting president Guy Scott to deny Lungu the PF’s presidential nomination. Nevers Mumba will represent the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy and Hakainde Hichilema is the candidate of the United Party for National Development, and Hichilema, in particular, has developed real momentum throughout December in what should be a close race in one of southern Africa’s most tightly-contested democracies.
- Delhi Capital Territory: February (legislative assembly elections).
For a brief moment in late 2013 and early 2014, Arvind Kejriwal and the good-government, anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी), seemed to be a rising power in Indian politics. Kejriwal emerged as the unlikely new chief minister in India’s capital with widespread popular support. But his high-minded resignation two months later and his ill-fated attempt to contest the national elections spread the young party much too thin. Still riding a post-landslide honeymoon, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) believe they will outmuscle Kejriwal and the decimated, Gandhi family-led Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) in Delhi, which has been under ‘President’s Rule’ since February. Modi and the BJP also see great opportunity to retake power in Bihar state after elections expected to take place much later in 2015.
- Egypt: Between March and May (parliamentary elections). No one expects Egypt’s elections, the third set of parliamentary elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, to be much more than a formality in providing a rubber-stamp parliament for Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was elected with nearly 97% of the vote in the May 2014 presidential election. It’s still worth watching to see whether the relatively pro-Sisi Salafists or Egypt’s secular liberals can manage to win a sizable share of seats.
- Transnistria: March (local elections). Moldova’s national elections in December 2014 highlighted the split identity of Europe’s poorest country, torn for two decades between Europe and Russia. Local elections due this spring in Transnistria, a narrow strip that runs along eastern Moldova’s border with Ukraine, might give Russia the excuse it needs to stir more trouble in a region that was never part of historical Moldova (which was itself part of Romania) and that preferred to stay in the Soviet Union, as opposed to joining an independent Moldova.
- Finland: April 19 (parliamentary elections). Alexander Stubb, who became prime minister last June when Jyrki Katainen resigned to join the European Commission, faces long odds to secure reelection for the center-right National Coalition Party (Kansallinen Kokoomus). Polls show that the Centre Party (Suomen Keskusta), a liberal group with rural and agrarian roots, holds an increasing lead. Though the Centre Party’s most famous member is perhaps former European Commissioner Olli Rehn, its leader Juha Sipilä could bring the party back to power just four years after the prior Centre-led government fell. Stubb is an advocate of joining NATO, a controversial position in Finland. In light of Russian aggression in 2014, Finland’s elections — as well as Estonia’s March 1 elections — will receive more international coverage than usual.
- Ireland: May (referendum on same-sex marriage). Though a recent poll shows that Irish voters support marriage equality by a margin of 71% to 17%, Ireland remains one of the few remaining holdouts in western Europe that does not already recognize same-sex marriage. The referendum, which will have the support of the governing center-right Fine Gael, social democratic Labour, conservative Fianna Fáil and the leftist republican Sinn Féin, could change that, pressuring Germany, Italy, eastern Europe and Northern Ireland to change their marriage laws as well.
- South Sudan: July 9 (presidential and parliamentary elections). In a best-case scenario, South Sudan will hold in July its first elections since independence from Sudan. But the ongoing skirmish between supporters of president Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar, which exploded into civil war in December 2013, could endanger those elections, agreed under South Sudan’s transitional constitution. There’s still a lot of doubt that the vote will even take place, because fighting tragically continues in the world’s newest country, despite repeated attempts at mediating a resolution between the two warring camps.
- Central African Republic: July (presidential and parliamentary elections). As in South Sudan, scheduled elections might become a means for the Central African Republic to pivot from violence to normalcy. Under interim president Catherine Samba-Panza, with support from the French military, violence has receded from civil-war levels in late 2013, when longstanding political violence intersected with sectarian violence between the Christian majority and Muslim minority.
- Guatemala: September 13 (presidential and parliamentary elections). Otto Pérez Molina, the former general and leader of the conservative Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party), perhaps most famous for his calls for the United States to liberalize its drug policies, is not eligible to run for reelection. The frontrunner to succeed him, however, is the runner-up from the 2011 election, Manuel Baldizón, the leader of the center-right, humanist Libertad Democrática Renovada (LIDER, Renewed Democratic Liberty) formed in 2010. Zury Ríos, the daughter of infamous former president Efraín Ríos Montt, is expected to run and win token support.
- Denmark: September 14 (parliamentary elections). Social democratic prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt faces an uphill battle in her quest for reelection, though her coalition’s strength in last May’s European parliamentary elections gave her enough optimism that Thorning-Schmidt disclaimed interest in taking a high-level EU post instead. She will still have a tough time defeating Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the leader of the center-right Venstre (Liberals), and there’s a chance that the far-right, anti-immigrant Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) could win the greatest share of votes.
- Tanzania: October (parliamentary elections). Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Party of the Revolution) is the longest-ruling party in Africa today, having controlled the east African country since 1977. In that time, the party has produced four presidents and transitioned from a standard socialist, African nationalist party into a neoliberal one. The frontrunner to replace the term-limited Jakaya Kikwete is his prime minister, Mizengo Pinda, a longtime figure in Tanzanian public life, though Pinda currently faces serious corruption charges.
- Portugal: October (parliamentary elections). Amid the woes of larger southern European countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, small Portugal is also set to elect a new government by the end of 2015. Prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho of the center-right Partido Social Democrata (PSD, Social Democratic Party) took office in 2011, and he has also been forced to pursue an austerity agenda demanded as a condition of the country’s bailout program, conditions that nearly brought down his government in 2013. Polls give the opposition center-left Partido Socialista (PS, Socialist Party) a double-digit lead in the next election. Despite the stunning arrest in November of former Socialist prime minister José Sócrates, the Socialists still hold a strong lead in part because they elected a new leader, Lisbon mayor António Costa, in September, who argues that the Socialists must draw a stronger contrast with the Passos Coelho government.
- Belarus: November 15 (presidential election). No country’s fortunes are more closely tied to Russia’s than neighboring Belarus, which lies precariously between Russia and Ukraine, and has also watched as the Belarusian ruble crashed alongside the Russian ruble in December, forcing president Aleksandr Lukashenko to replace his prime minister and central bank president earlier this week. The openly authoritarian Lukashenko faced massive protests on the streets of Minsk in 2011 after his rigged reelection, and he might face even stronger protests in 2015 — another term in power would extend his rule to a quarter-century.
- Russia: December (parliamentary elections). Russian president Vladimir Putin may face some political turbulence long before December if Russia’s economy continues to tank. But elections to the Duma (ду́ма), the lower house of the Russian national assembly, in December 2011 precipitated the widest anti-Kremlin demonstrations to date, propelling critic Alexei Navalny (sentenced to prison just this week) to the limelight. Protests again are likely to arise after the expected 2015 vote, which will set the tone for Russia’s 2018 presidential vote, widely expected to be rigged in favor of a fourth term for Putin.
- Saudi Arabia: TBD (municipal elections). While the House of Saud shows no sign of relinquishing control over national affairs anytime soon, it has confronted the fact that Saudi society is changing, especially as a new generation prepares for the eventual succession to the 90-year old king, Abdullah, who was hospitalized earlier this week. Abdullah promulgated the first Saudi municipal elections in 2005 and 2011, and it was his decision to allow women the right to vote in the 2015 elections, which could become a key milestone in the Saudi women’s rights movement.