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International Elections and Leaders: June 2019 Update

election and leaders dataset update
President Elect of South Africa and President of the African National Congress (ANC) Cyril Ramaphosa greets the crowds after delivering a speech outside Lithuli House, the ANC's headquarters in Johannesburg, on May 12, 2019. Photo: WIKUS DE WET/AFP/Getty

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

Seven elections to determine the new chief executive took place in May.

Europe

In Europe, two elections took place. Belgium held its federal election on May 26th. The ruling coalition led by the Reformist Movement (Charles Michel) fared poorly, while the far-right Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang (VB) and the far-left Workers’ Party of Belgium gained the most seats with 15 and 10 new seats, respectively. Both of the green parties also picked up seats, while all other previously represented groups experienced a loss of seats following the vote.

Coalition building in Belgium has been historically difficult, and this is likely to be no different. VB’s party platform insists on the expulsion of immigrants that do not adopt Flemish norms and has shown interest in the potential dissolvement of the Belgian state and the formation of a Flemish national project. Belgium’s mainstream political parties have historically refused to work with VB, but the more mainstream Flemish nationalist party known as the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) has expressed interest in breaking the “political quarantine” against it. Together, VB and the N-VA will hold around 30 percent of the seats in the legislature. This will make it difficult to form a new government without involving at least one of the Flemish nationalist parties.

Lithuania held a presidential election on May 12th and a runoff round on May 26th. Incumbent president Dalia Grybauskaitė was ineligible to run due to term limits, resulting in a second-round win for Gitanas Nausėda. Nausėda worked in Lithuania’s central bank and holds a pro-EU and ‑NATO platform. Nausėda also ran on a platform that advocated for greater free market policies and the strengthening of domestic businesses and job creation.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Two elections took place in sub-Saharan Africa during the month of May. South Africa held its highly anticipated general election on May 8th. As expected, incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa and the African National Congress (ANC) won 230 seats and the ability to form a majority government as a result. While the election is certainly a victory for the ANC, multiple opposition parties made gains at the expense of the ruling party and main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. The biggest gains were made by Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters. Malema, once part of the ANC, ran on a left-wing populist platform.

Ramaphosa’s new electoral mandate will serve as a test for the ANC going forward. Corruption and economic inequality remain at the forefront of the political problems within the country. Gains by Malema are likely to be a worry for the ANC and the Democratic Alliance going forward as well. Malema has starkly criticized the perceived pro-business stance of both parties and has made increasingly inflammatory remarks regarding support for racial violence. If Ramaphosa fails to tackle many of the biggest political and economic issues facing South Africa, it is possible that subsequent electoral cycles will see further polarization and conflict.

Malawi held its general election on May 21st. Incumbent president Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won a second term in office after securing 38.5 percent of the vote. The results are the closest in Malawi’s democratic history and were not without controversy. Opposition parties accused the DPP of vote manipulation through the country’s electoral commission. Malawi faces large-scale issues with poverty and government corruption, and opposition challenges will likely remain strong going forward under such conditions.

Americas

Panama held a general election on May 5th. Laurentino Cortizo of the Democratic Revolutionary Party won the presidency with 33 percent of the vote, narrowly beating his center-right rival by only 2 percentage points. Runner-up candidate Rómulo Roux initially refused to accept the results due to alleged voting irregularities, but Cortizo has been recognized as the winner by both the electoral commission and the broader political community.

Cortizo looks to clamp down on government corruption and to address rising unemployment and inequity in Panama’s education and infrastructure systems. He also plans to strengthen economic and political ties with the United States.

Asia

Two elections took place across Asia in the month of May. India concluded its general election on May 19th after starting a staggered vote on April 11th. Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 303 seats, a 6 percent increase from the last election and more than enough to form a majority in India’s legislature (Lok Sabha). Rahul Gandhi and the Indian National Congress won the second most seats with 52. However, a party needs at least 55 seats to be recognized as an opposition party. As a result, the Lok Sabha will have no official opposition party for the duration of the mandate.

The election took place against the backdrop of issues surrounding political violence and escalating interstate tensions between India and Pakistan. Brief, albeit ongoing, skirmishes with the Pakistani army and air force may have aided Modi and the BJP as nationalist and religious cleavages become more pronounced in the world’s largest democracy. This is illustrated by the fact that the 2019 election broke the turnout record with 67.1 percent while turnout in the contested Jammu and Kashmir provinces dipped by around 20 percent compared to 2014.

Modi and the BJP will face pressure to address economic growth while improving internal security and managing regional power rivalries. Lack of job growth and increasing sectarian tensions will likely be difficult to manage and may play a role in further political polarization in the lead-up to the 2024 election.

Australia held its federal election on May 18th. Incumbent Scott Morrison and his Liberal/National coalition won 77 seats, enough to secure a majority government without coalition talks. A victory for Morrison was not initially expected. Previous Liberal Party prime minister Malcolm Turnbull resigned last August after lukewarm electoral performance and lack of internal party support. Morrison will continue a right-leaning governance style and will need to address contentious economic issues such as wage stagnation and cost of living alongside the reform of social safety net programs.

New Leaders

Five new leaders took power in the month of May.

Europe

Xavier Espot Zamora took over as the prime minister of Andorra on May 16th. Zamora will look to continue economic reforms regarding taxation and banking transparency while cracking down on recently criminalized tax evasion schemes within the country. Zamora will also need to navigate calls for social reform, specifically surrounding the argument for relaxing Andorra’s strict anti-abortion laws.

Volodymyr Zelensky assumed the office of president in Ukraine on May 20th. Zelensky, a former comedian and actor, has begun to cultivate better relations with the EU and has openly called Vladimir Putin the enemy of Ukraine. He also faces calls to curtail corruption. Zelensky’s political inexperience will be tested given the complicated problems facing the country, and his performance will likely shape the political landscape going forward.

In Austria, two transitional leaders have taken power following perhaps the most serious political scandal in the country’s democratic history. Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right populist party known as the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), was caught in an elaborate and well-planned sting operation dating back to 2017. Known as Ibiza-gate, Strache was caught on tape soliciting funds and electoral support from the representative of a Russian oligarch and openly discussing plans to utilize government power to provide government contracts to friends and deny them to enemies. Strache also suggested that the FPO would seek to forge an undemocratic media approach similar to that of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.

The video, now known to be a well-planned honey pot, was released nearly two years after it was recorded and resulted in the dissolution of the ruling right-wing government. Incumbent chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP) cut ties with the FPO as a coalition party, allowing the opposition Social Democratic Party to pass a vote to dissolve the government and call a snap election for September. Strache resigned from both his minister position and as leader of the FPO.

In the lead-up to the election, Hartwig Loeger was appointed acting chancellor from May 28th to June 3rd. On June 3rd, Brigitte Bierlein was appointed as interim chancellor until the election. Bierlein is the first woman to hold the position of chancellor in Austria’s political history and served as the first female head of Austria’s constitutional court as well. She was chosen by the president of Austria to oversee government based on her acceptance of all major political parties. She holds socially conservative views but has often broken with the OVP and FPO by openly supporting religious freedom and equality.

Oceania

Finally, David Panuelo took office as the president of the Federated States of Micronesia on May 11th. A political independent, Panuelo was educated in the United States before returning to the island nation. Panuelo is expected to pursue reforms related to the development of a renewable energy sector and to reform the department of education during the beginning of his tenure.

Elections to Watch in June

Four elections to decide the chief executive are expected to take place in June.

Mauritania will hold its presidential election on June 22nd, with a runoff round on July 6th if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. The election will take place amid increasingly strong calls for any new elected government to pursue a human rights agenda that focuses on Mauritania’s problems with slavery and human trafficking. Incumbent president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz recently halted efforts to amend the constitution to allow him a third term, effectively ending his nearly 10 years in power. His successor, Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed, will run against 13 opposition candidates as a result.

It is difficult to posit what the likely outcome will be other than the typical advantages that incumbent representatives have already. Opposition parties have already begun calls to boycott the election as they are unconvinced that the government will operate with transparency regarding the electoral process. Regardless, the result of this election will provide insight into what to expect for Mauritania going forward.

Kazakhstan will hold its early election on June 9th. Following longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbayev’s shocking resignation earlier this year, his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will run against Jambyl Ahmetbekov of the Communist People’s Party. Nazarbayev’s political legacy sought to propel Kazakhstan into the global economic system as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Both candidates will seek to convince voters that their platform for continuing Kazakhstan’s gains is best for the country.

While Kazakhstan has long dealt with concerns regarding political freedom and expression, this will be the first election in the nation’s history in which Nazarbayev does not stand for office. Tokayev has openly committed to transparency and freedom of choice for the election, but it will be important to keep an eye on the process and the results. Regardless, Kazakhstan’s upcoming election is a monumental shift in the political environment and a potential sign of the loosening of the country’s historical one-party rule.

Guatemala will hold a general election on June 16th and a runoff presidential round on August 11th if no candidate secures a majority of the vote. The office will be contested by 20 candidates, and the election will take place in controversy regarding corruption, candidate disqualification, and the unknown fate of the UN anti-corruption body known as the CICIG, which is based in Guatemala. Currently, Sandra Torres is leading in pre-election polls, but she remains a deeply divisive figure for up to 50 percent of the country. Torres is running on a platform that seeks to strengthen social development, women’s rights, and the rights of children.

Torres faced a potential disqualification as well but has been cleared to stay on as a candidate. Keep an eye on Guatemala as Torres seeks to become the first female head of government in the country’s history.

Finally, Denmark held a general election on June 5th. The left-wing Social Democrats are expected to come out on top and be able to form a governing coalition with a bloc of left-leaning parties. While the Social Democrats were the largest party in the legislature, a coalition of right-wing parties was able to form a minority government under Lars Løkke Rasmussen in the previous election. The Social Democrats have shifted toward a platform of immigrant restriction and welfare improvement, seen as a strategic political compromise, a shift that is argued to have benefited them greatly in the polls this time around.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on Denmark following a potential left-wing victory. Will a leftist government moderate the anti-immigrant rhetoric seen in the election campaign, or will they continue a split political platform? A left-wing government would improve social spending on Denmark’s strained welfare system, but current anti-immigrant sentiment has resulted in an increase in the number of complaints regarding discrimination and hate crimes—complaints that may only increase even with a leftist government in power.

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