Why you should care
Because the outcomes of these elections could shape global political and economic trends for decades to come.
Charu Sudan Kasturi
OZY Senior Editor Charu Sudan Kasturi's column, "Butterfly Effect," connects the dots on seemingly unrelated global headlines, highlighting what could happen next and who is likely to be impacted.
When American political philosopher Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history” in 1992, his conclusion that Western liberal democracy would universally represent the “final form of human government” appeared justified. The Soviet Union had just collapsed, Germany had reunited and former Eastern bloc communist countries were queuing up to join the European Union. That belief has faced sporadic challenges in recent years. But over the next 12 months, it will face its most thorough test yet.
Starting with Italy’s elections on March 4, more people will vote to elect national governments over the next year than ever before in a similar time span. Seven of the world’s 10 most populous nations — India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russia and Mexico — will pick their leaderships, as will war-ravaged nations like Iraq and Afghanistan. The countries that will vote include increasingly authoritarian regimes like Venezuela, Egypt and Russia, and nations with growing cynicism over corruption, like Brazil and Malaysia.
These elections are extremely crucial for the future of democracy.
Arch Puddington, Freedom House
With 40 percent of the world’s population heading to the ballot box, there’s more at stake than the future of these countries. That’s why we at OZY are launching a new series, Democracy, the Big Test, to track the debates, tensions and outcomes of these elections. Ahead of each major national election, we will publish original features offering insights and details, trends and analysis that you won’t find anywhere else. In addition, we will bring stories to you throughout the year that capture emerging trends and personalities that could influence these elections. Our goal: to keep our globally minded audience ahead of the curve on the political and economic shifts that could shape the world in the coming years. “These elections are extremely crucial for the future of democracy,” says Arch Puddington, distinguished fellow for democracy studies at Freedom House.
Many of the key debates America shares with other democracies today highlight why these upcoming elections aren’t just about local concerns. The sparring over fake news — and its use to influence elections — is echoing across Europe, including Italy, where we begin this series. The move away from globalization under President Trump finds resonance in Joko Widodo’s Indonesia, which goes to polls in early 2019. And America isn’t the only major democracy pushing out refugees — India, the world’s largest, wants to deport Rohingya migrants who fled violence in Myanmar.
Then there are the stiff examinations democracy itself faces. A decade and a half after the U.S. invaded Iraq — and 17 years since the war in Afghanistan began — both these countries remain fledgling democracies, deeply vulnerable to terrorism and proxy wars between other nations. In Malaysia, youth are turning away from uninspiring elections that are pitting a 92-year-old former prime minister against an incumbent accused of funneling public funds into his account. “It’s a difficult situation, but it’s very important to challenge cynicism,” says Puddington.
Corruption has battered the second-largest economy in the Americas, Brazil, whose president faces possible impeachment proceedings (his predecessor was impeached). And the candidate currently leading polls for the October elections, also an ex-president, has been convicted. Populism is rising — on the left and the right. In Colombia, a historic peace deal with the Marxist FARC is fraying ahead of March elections. And citizens are fleeing Venezuela, where President Nicolás Maduro has called elections in April amid an economic collapse.
The largest and most powerful Arab nation, Egypt, votes in late March in presidential elections where most strong opponents have been barred from contesting by the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. And Zimbabwe’s citizens will for the first time ever vote for a leader other than Robert Mugabe.
Will elections give authoritarian regimes a veneer of democratic legitimacy? Will new leaders, where they emerge, truly chart a fresh course, or will cynicism defeat democracy in countries where choices appear sparse? Will war-torn nations make a new beginning? And will the world be less or more unstable 12 months from now? Join us for this series as we bring you the answers.