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International Elections and Leaders: March 2018 Update

Jacob Zuma (right) resigns as president of South Africa after a controversial eight years in charge of the post-Apartheid government. Cyril Ramaphosa (right) was elected to replace Zuma by the national assembly. MIKE HUTCHINGS/AFP/Getty Images

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.”

As we continue through the first quarter of 2018, February experienced a steady uptick in election events and it experienced two resignations that resulted in leadership changes.

International Elections

In a follow-up to last month’s presidential election in Cyprus, a run-off round led to an incumbent victory for Nicos Anastasiades (55.99 percent) over leftist challenger Stavros Malas (44.01 percent). Anastasiades is expected to continue policies that promote economic sustainability and to reengage in peace and reunification talks with North Cyprus.

In Costa Rica, no candidate met the vote threshold for a first-round win.  A runoff round is scheduled for April 1st, is but it is contested by Fabricio Muñoz, the conservative candidate, and Carlos Quesada, the progressive candidate.  Polls suggest up to a double-digit lead for Muñoz in the run up to the final round.

Ecuador, held a direct referendum to amend the constitution on February 4th. Incumbent president Lenin Moreno put the referendum forward, with the majority of voters approving five constitutional changes and two shifts in economic policy. The success of the referendum is seen as a repudiation of former president Correa’s legacy. The constitutional changes restrict all eligible candidates to only two terms of the presidency, creates stronger punishment for corruption and sexual assault against minors, and reverses polices that allowed for economic extraction activity in national parks and in indigenous lands.

New Leaders

When it comes to leadership changes, February proved to be slightly irregular. On February 14th, South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, tended his resignation after increasing pressure from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party. Zuma’s resignation follows a series of high profile scandals and charges of corruption. Cyril Ramaphosa was elected by the national assembly to replace Zuma as the fifth president of South Africa on February 15th.  Opposition parties, who remain cautiously optimistic about the new president’s promises to stimulate economic growth and to strengthen the ANC’s commitment to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, welcomed Ramaphosa’s first state of the union address was met with positive reactions.

In another resignation, Sher Bahadur Deuba stepped down as the prime minister of Nepal on February 15th, after only eight months in the position. Deuba’s decision to resign comes after a landmark victory by the communist alliance two months ago. Disagreement between the communist alliance and the incumbent coalition concerning new election rules led to a delay in forming a new government. Deuba’s resignation is thought to be in response to public anxiety concerning democratic backsliding.

Events to Watch in March

March looks to be an eventful month in terms of both elections and leadership changes. In the Caribbean, both Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda have set dates for parliamentary elections in mid to late March respectively. Cuba is also set to hold a national assembly vote on March 11th. Incumbent leader Raúl Castro announced his intention to step down as Cuba’s president last December, with vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel likely to be voted in as the next successor.

In Africa, two elections are scheduled to take place in March. In Sierra Leone, five new candidates will contest the first round of elections on March 7th, as incumbent Ernest Koroma is ineligible for further terms. In Egypt, the presidential election is scheduled to take place over a three-day period from March 26th to 28th. The incumbent, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will run against Moussa Moussa of the El-Ghad party. Observers expect Sisi to win reelection and it will be interesting to see how the results of March’s race will shift the controversial electoral landscape of Egypt. In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, offered his resignation on February 15th following protests and increasing fragmentation in the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) collation. Desalegn will remain in his position until a successor is chosen sometime in March. This process has the potential to substantially reshape Ethiopian politics as political factions seek to navigate the situation.

Finally, Europe will see two prominent elections in Russia, on March 18th, and Italy, on March 4th . In Russia, eight candidates will contest the presidential election. Incumbent, President Vladimir Putin, is expected to win a fourth term according to public opinion polls. Putin remains popular for his foreign policy approach that aims to keep Russia at the forefront of world politics. While there is uncertainty about his position following this election, it appears that Russia will seek minimal changes to its next government. In Italy, four parties will contest seats in the chamber of deputies and the senate. The return of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to politics after his previous ban on holding office and the growing pains of a new electoral system are expected to dominate the electoral process. The Eurosceptic Five Star Movement currently holds the single-party lead (27 percent) in pre-election polls, but a center-right coalition between Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and the Lega Nord is polling at a collectively at 36 percent. In contrast to Russia, uncertainty surrounding the new electoral system and the resurgence of right-wing politics may fundamentally reshape the Italian political landscape.

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