The Rulers, Elections, and Irregular Governance (REIGN) Dataset describes political conditions in every country each and every month. We regularly update the dataset and summarize recent changes. The newest version of REIGN is always available here.
December was a busy month for elections and leader transitions worldwide. We coded five elections and two referendums: Gambia, Ghana, Uzbekistan, Macedonia, Switzerland, Italy and Kyrgyzstan. In addition, leader transitions occurred in New Zealand and South Korea.
Overall, leader transitions were marred by uncertainty and political crises this past month. Refusal of the 22-year ruler of Gambia to step down following the election, impeachment procedures in South Korea, Italy’s referendum failure, and political conflict over election results in Macedonia are a few examples.
Tensions continue in Haiti, Somalia, Iceland, and Bulgaria, where leader transitions are under a threat of continued political deadlock. These will be critical situations to watch in January.
In Gambia, the presidential election resulted in a political crisis following the defeat of a long-standing ruler of the country – Yahya Jammeh, who took power in a coup in 1994. Adama Barrow – a businessman who never held office – won the election with over 43% of the vote. Jammeh first conceded the election, but rejected the outcome a couple days later despite international pressure.
Initially heralded as a democratic breakthrough, the election results now threaten to destabilize the country. The situation could escalate quickly, as the army remains loyal to the President and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened military action to oust Jammeh if he does not step down at the end of his term – January 19th.
In Ghana, a peaceful presidential election consolidated the country’s reputation as one of the most democratic in Africa. Voters elected Nana Akufo-Addo – a son of a former president and candidate in 2008 and 2012 elections with over 53% of the vote. He will replace John Mahama, president since 2012 and a member of the National Democratic Congress, a party which held power for eight years.
The election in Uzbekistan yielded an expected outcome with over 88% of the vote cast for an interim president – Shavkat Mirziyoyev - who took over after Islam Karimov’s death in September. Mirziyoyev was prime minister prior to Karimov’s sudden death after 26 years in power.
A parliamentary election in Macedonia resulted in a tight victory of the incumbent conservative party – the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). The opposition is questioning the election results. The winning party’s leader, Nikola Gruevski, who held power for almost 10 years prior to resigning in January amid a political crisis, does not have obvious partners in parliament to form a majority coalition. With coalition-building ahead, the political crisis, which prompted an early election, is expected to continue.
In Switzerland, the Federal Assembly elected a new president, Doris Luthard, in a yearly election. The president heads the seven-member Swiss Federal Council, which is considered a collective head of state.
A referendum in Kyrgyzstan strengthened the authority of the prime minister and weakened the president. The constitution will be changed to allow the prime minister to appoint and dismiss cabinet members with the approval of the parliament, and to appoint and dismiss local administration heads.
A referendum in Italy, intended to strengthen the executive, failed with 60% “No” votes. Center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned following the referendum, as voters rejected the proposed changes to the constitution and, with them, Renzi’s government. Paolo Gentiloni became prime minister following Renzi’s resignation. His cabinet remained largely unchanged from that of his predecessor’s. The resignation paved the way for a possible early election in 2017.
In South Korea, Park Guen Hye resigned following the parliament’s impeachment vote, a culmination of a months-long corruption scandal surrounding her administration. Hwang Kyo Ahn, a former prime minister and largely ceremonial figure, who was never elected for office, was appointed acting president.
Bill English was appointed prime minister in New Zealand after a sudden resignation of John Key.
Coalition-building in Iceland and Bulgaria still has not yielded any results. An early election in 2017 is likely in both cases.
In Haiti, the government has yet to announce official results of the presidential election, which took place in November after multiple delays. According to preliminary results, Jovenel Moise is the winner. However, the results are vehemently contested by other candidates.
Somalia has once again pushed back the date of its presidential election, now from December 28 to January 24. The president will be elected by a parliament which was sworn in this month.
We have corrected the gender for Heine – current president of the Marshall Islands. We also added a previously missed referendum in Grenada, which was originally scheduled for October, but occurred in November.