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International Elections and Leaders: December 2017 Update

Robert Mugabe, the ousted leader of Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Lock (USAF).

The REIGN Dataset (Rulers, Elections, and Irregular Governance) covers political conditions in every country each and every month. We update the dataset monthly to reflect the most recent political events, such as coups, world elections, and changes in political leadership. We provide monthly election coverage and track leadership changes in a series of updates called “International Elections and Leaders.”

While November 2017 is likely to be remembered for the successful coup against Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, several other countries saw significant political change. These changes affected every major region, ranging from a no confidence vote suffered by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands to an abandoned resignation by Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Lebanon. The many political transitions unfolding this month are described below.

International Elections

Going into December, the outcomes of four November elections remain in question. Hondurans participated in a presidential election on 26 November, but election officials have been very slow to release preliminary results. The fact that updates have been much slower than they were during the 2013 election is fueling frustration and skepticism among Hondurans and international observers. This frustration is amplified by the first post-vote tally, which showed incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez to be trailing opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla. As of 29 November, an official outcome has yet to be announced.

In Nepal, where voters are participating in a national general election for the first time since the end of that country’s civil war, the vote has gone more smoothly. Voters in 32 districts voted in the final week of November. A second phase for another 45 districts will occur in early December. Observers hope the election will provide more political stability in a country that has had 17 prime ministers since 2000.

On 19 November, voters in Chile went to the polls for the first round of the presidential election. Sebastian Pinera, Chilean President from 2010 to 2014, polled first with 36%. This outcome represents a right-ward shift in Chilean politics and a clear defeat for incumbent President Michelle Bachelet. The second round of the vote will occur on 17 December.

Finally, Liberia postponed the second round of its presidential election due to an ongoing election fraud investigation. The postponement, which was ordered by the Supreme Court, means the country’s first democratic leader transition since World War Two will wait indefinitely until the Court examines the allegations. In the first round opposition candidate George Weah overcame the incumbent Vice President by a margin of 38% to 29%.

New Leaders

The most widely covered leader change of the month was in Zimbabwe, where long-serving President Robert Mugabe was forcefully overthrown by elements of the Zimbabwean armed forces on 15 November. In the aftermath of the coup, Mugabe agreed to resign so that the chosen leader of the coup plotters, former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, could take power. This is the first coup attempt in southern Africa since the failed coup against former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba in October 2007.

We covered the Zimbabwean coup extensively, including these takes on the unusual characteristics of the coup, the likelihood of post-coup democratization, opportunities for regional peacekeeping, and what South Africa might do next.

Former Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeebekov, having won the October election in Kyrgyzstan, was inaugurated as President on 24 November. This is the first peaceful transition between Kyrgyz presidents since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Elsewhere, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of Solomon Islands narrowly lost a no confidence vote, 27-23. A new Prime Minister, Rick Houenipwela, was inaugurated on 15 November. In Iceland, leftist candidate Katrin Jakobsdottir was given a mandate to form a new governing coalition after Iceland’s October snap election. She became the world’s newest female leader on 30 November.

Events to Watch in December

In Eastern Europe, coalition-building continues following election results in Austria and the Czech Republic. The winners of those elections, Sebastian Kurz and Andrej Babis, are widely expected to compile sufficient coalitions in the coming weeks.

As each of the November elections has yet to be resolved, observers will need to follow the second rounds of the elections in Chile, Nepal, and Liberia, as well as the delayed results of the presidential contest in Honduras. We will also be watching the precarious political situations in Lebanon, Kenya, and post-coup Zimbabwe, as well as several other countries with looming election deadlines but no set election dates (Egypt, Barbados, and Grenada).

Interested in more election coverage? Visit the REIGN Dataset page, or read the most recent update on international elections and leaders.