International Elections and Leaders: January 2019 Update

The DRC held its long-anticipated election on December 30th to choose a successor to long-time leader Joseph Kabila. In the first democratic transfer of power since independence, opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi won a surprise victory.

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

International Elections

Armenia held its first ever snap election on December 9th. The election was called after incumbent prime minister Nikol Pashinyan failed to form a government last October. Pashinyan’s My Step Alliance won a landslide victory, securing 70 percent of the vote. The Armenian Republican Party, perennial rulers of the country, failed to meet the 5 percent threshold for representation and will be left out of government for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Bangladesh held its general election on December 30th. Bangladesh has a controversial electoral history, and this election is no exception. Election day saw 12 election-related deaths and violent crackdowns against opposition activists. In the shadow of this violence, the ruling Awami League party was victorious in securing 288 of 300 seats following a total boycott by opposition parties. It would be pertinent to keep an eye on Bangladesh post-election, as opposition groups and international organizations have accused the government of taking an authoritarian turn when dealing with opposition opponents.

Finally, Africa experienced two major election events. Madagascar concluded the second round of its presidential election on December 19th. Former president Andry Rajoelina was announced the winner with over 55 percent of the vote, yet the post-election period has been mired in controversy. Supporters of Rajoelina’s opponent, Marc Ravalomanana, have accused Rajoelina of electoral fraud and have engaged in multi-day protests in the capital.

After nearly three years of delays, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) held its presidential election on December 30th. This important election is set to choose the first new leader in nearly 20 years, as longtime ruler Joseph Kabila is ineligible to run. The election took place in the shadow of violence, an Ebola crisis, and the mysterious destruction of 8,000 voting machines. The results were announced on January 10th, with opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi announced as the winner. The results of the election represent a political contrast. This represents the first peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960. However, pre-election poll leader Martin Fayulu, another opposition candidate, has openly criticized the electoral process and has even suggested that the results were rigged by Kabila to prevent his win. This controversy is likely to tarnish the post-election political landscape and it will be important to keep an eye on the DRC in the following months.

New Leaders

Four new leaders took power during December. Ueli Maurer was inaugurated as the president of Switzerland on January 1st. Maurer, a member of the EU skeptic People’s Party, will serve his second ever term as president. Following Georgia’s latest presidential election, the country has changed to a parliamentary system that transfers important powers of the president to the prime minister. As a result, REIGN now classifies incumbent Mamuka Bakhtadze as the head executive. While this change will be reflected in REIGN going forward, incoming president Salome Zurabishvili, the first elected female president in Georgia, has already exercised considerable influence in domestic politics following an investigation into the death of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

In Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office as president. Obrador, an experienced leftist politician, represents a contrast to a regional shift to the right in the United States and Brazil. He has promised to crack down on corruption in law enforcement, liberalize drug laws, increase military actions against cartels, decrease government overhead, and manage complicated relations with an increasingly cold Trump administration. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro assumed office on January 1st. Bolsonaro promised to take on leftist politics and eradicate socialism from the Brazilian state, and he must deal with increasing violent crime and an economic downturn. Bolsonaro marks a sharp turn from politics as usual for Brazil, and human rights advocates worry about the erosion of the civil and political liberties of minorities and the further marginalization of Brazil’s uncontacted indigenous tribes.

Elections to Watch in January

January is set to be a quiet month for election events. No major national elections are scheduled to take place, and the next election events are scheduled to take place in February.

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

photo credit: Caroline Thirion/AFP/Getty Images