Aside from the U.S. presidential election in November, significant leadership changes and political campaigns are taking place all over the world. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, elections look a little different this voting cycle — while some countries grapple with election security, others face the challenge of conducting a free and fair vote, with public health and safety in mind.
Glimpse from the Globe profiled several countries working through these very issues. Though some governments are implementing sound voting procedures to safeguard democracy, others are seizing this opportunity to advance corruption and hinder democratic progress. Some of the most consequential and noteworthy elections happening this year are taking place in Ghana, Somalia, Venezuela, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong.
From smaller parliamentary elections to larger votes where all elected seats are being turned over, these are some of the most critical and noteworthy elections occurring in the next few months.
Ghana will have a democratic election this year — its eighth since the multi-party democracy system restarted back in 1992. This year’s election features incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo and his Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) running against former president John Dramani Mahama and his running mate Jane Naana Opoku-Agyeman of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
It’s important to note that this is the third time that Nana Akufo-Addo and John Dramani Mahama have faced off in a battle for the presidency. They ran against each other in 2012 and 2016, with Mahama winning in 2012 and Akufo-Addo winning in 2016. Both of the past two elections have been decided by extremely close margins. Mahama won in 2012 by garnering 50.6% of the vote and Akufo-Addo won in 2016 with 53.8% of the vote.
Ghanaians will also be casting their ballots for parliamentary representatives come election day. This year’s census is expected to increase Parliament to around 300 members, up from the current 275. Ghana has been a relatively stable country in the last few years in terms of democracy and domestic politics, and the 2020 election is not expected to upset the country’s world standing or usher in any major changes.
Since 1992, Ghana’s elections have been regarded as free, fair, and peaceful and this upcoming election is expected to be no different. Ghana is the most free country in Western Africa, and the continuation of its fair democracy is very important. It will be interesting to track how Western Africa’s most free country handles the COVID-19 pandemic and democratic safeguards.
Somalia was supposed to have its first one-person-one-vote election since 1969 this year. Due to the coronavirus and other large-scale problems with creating an entirely new election process, the July 2020 presidential election has been delayed 13 months. The parliamentary elections have only been delayed until February of 2021. The current President of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, was initially supposed to be in power only until February 8, 2021. Somalian presidents have one term of only four years and cannot be reelected. The delay proposed by the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) puts the presidential election in August 2021, meaning that Mohamed’s term will need to be extended.
The Somalian people are understandably skeptical of their government’s promise of a delayed election (Somalia only has a score of 7/100 on the Freedom House scale), but large amounts of international attention appear to be helping to keep their government accountable. While critics have attacked the legality of this extension, Somalia’s plan to delay the election has received widespread support from the United Nations, African Union Mission, European Union, and the United States. The general consensus from these powerhouse countries and coalitions is that a delayed election with secure and free voting is better than a hastily executed one. Somalia’s successful execution of the presidential election will be critical for the continued democratization of Africa.
Venezuela is heading into a consequential parliamentary election this December. Currently, Venezuela’s parliament is fractured and suffering under President Nicolás Maduro’s ruinous rule. The opposition group is united in their hatred of Maduro and they demand the restoration of power to the National Assembly, the freeing of political prisoners, and abiding by the country’s constitution. In order to reach these goals, the opposition plans to boycott the election because going through with rigged voting would mean “collaborating with the strategy of the dictatorship.”
But now, the country’s opposition group is barely united in a boycott of the upcoming December 6th elections and their united front has been slowly crumbling. The alliance is made up of twenty-seven of the opposition parties, including the four most prominent member groups: Popular Will, Justice First, Democratic Action and A New Era. However, two prominent leaders from the opposition group, Henrique Capriles and Iván Stalin González, recently broke off from the election boycott. They are of the opinion that the opposition’s main goals with the boycott have not been achieved and need to be readjusted. The National Election Council (CNE) or the Consejo Nacional Electoral, is one of five branches of the Venezuelan government and the one with the responsibility of handling elections. The CNE has had monumental problems in creating election guidelines and getting the country on-track for the December election. Aside from the COVID-19-related issues, the CNE also lost 49,408 voting machines for the elections in a fire back in March.
Freedomhouse, a nonprofit that conducts worldwide evaluations of freedom and democracy, has deemed Venezuela “not free,” garnering only a 16 out of 100 on their freedom and democracy scale. The Lima Group, International Contact Group, European Union and the United States have publicly opposed elections in Venezuela unless they are conducted with “free and fair conditions.” It is unlikely that in the next few months Venezuela will be able to get their election back on track, but the world will be fervently watching the results. If the opposition is able to secure more parliamentary seats, it’ll be one step closer to defeating Maduro’s dictatorial rule. But if not, the Venezuelan people are likely to see even greater suffering and political oppression.
For a city that has dealt civilian unrest and uprisings since March 2019, the question of whether the legislative council elections will even occur has remained a mystery. In fact, the elections were scheduled to occur on September 6, However, in early August, Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong Chief Executive, announced that the elections would be delayed by a year to September 5, 2021. Lam cited the resurgence of COVID-19 within the city as the primary reason for this extreme decision. Although there was suspicion that the elections would be rigged, many civilians had hoped that a pro-democratic party would come to power in Hong Kong by the end of this year. Several suspect the delayed election to be the backhanded work of the Beijing government, as a guise to staunch political activism in the city. One thing is for sure, delaying the elections has more chance of fueling the unrest in Hong Kong, rather than putting an end to it.
New Zealand’s General Election is set to be held on October 17 after being delayed by a month amid fears of another wave of coronavirus outbreaks in the country. This general election is particularly important as it will decide the composition of the country’s 53rd Parliament. The current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is a member of the Labour party and has formed a coalition with the Green and NZ First parties in order to win a parliamentary majority. Ardern’s main opposition in the upcoming election is Judith Collins, a member of the National party. Although Ardern and Collins are both liberal-minded politicians, there are some key platforms on which they differ. One of the key points in Collins’ campaign is to tighten borders and reduce taxes in order to stop the resurgence of COVID-19, an issue that Collins has blamed on Ardern’s lax border policies. Ardern also remains strongly in favor of eradicating child poverty, improving housing affordability and combating climate change – all of which Collins views as extraneous policies, second to building up New Zealand’s economy.
Any election can be said to be an exercise in gauging the public’s support for the current leader. However, in light of the turbulent years Ardern has faced while in office – from the Christchurch terrorist attack to the White Island eruption to the current pandemic – this election will truly reveal whether the citizens of New Zealand are happy with the way the current government has handled these crises and whether they believe Labour should remain in power.
On August 28, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would be resigning from office due to health concerns. Abe has been the prime minister for 8 years – the longest recorded term for a Japanese government official. Initially, there was much confusion regarding who the leading conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was going to pick to succeed Abe. On September 14, the party announced that Yoshihide Suga had been elected as the favored successor. Suga is a well-known and respected member of the LDP, acting as the cabinet secretary. He is reportedly a staunch follower of Abe’s fiscal and political policies and has declared that he plans to continue implementing Abe’s financial reforms to stimulate economic growth. He also vows to strengthen the Japan-US relationship while attempting to simultaneously maintain a diplomatic relationship with neighboring China.
This could prove difficult, given the rising tension between Washington and Beijing that has manifested itself into a drawn-out trade war. Abe also had a plan to reinstate Japan’s military – which has been constitutionally barred from participating in any international military exercises. Whether Suga will continue Abe’s efforts to push this drastic move to fruition is another major consideration for the Japanese people. If elected, Suga will carry out the remainder of Abe’s term until September 2021. LDP party members are restless to see if Suga will call for a general election once he takes up the PM role and who he will pick to be his executive leadership team. Although the role of Japanese PM has been formally decided within the LDP, there still remains much uncertainty about the future of Japan under Suga and, more importantly, where Japan will stand on the international stage under Suga’s leadership.
Around the world, governments are gearing up to gain power or retain power, while citizens are preparing to see if their vote has made a difference. Whether local or national, these elections will bring to power leaders who will actively shape the social fabric of these countries. While domestic politics is important, another major consideration is how these newly-elected leaders will interact with others within the global arena — because of the uncertainty of these elections and the uncertainty of COVID-19, the jury is still out on relations between countries.