This was a pretty big electoral year in Australia, with three state elections (South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria) and our biggest ever byelection, for the Senate in Western Australia. Not to mention New Zealand, which most of us think of as just a slightly more exotic Australian state.
But it was also a big year worldwide, with elections in six of the G20 members (compared with only three last year) and a variety of other interesting places as well.
To the extent that there was any overall trend, it seemed unsettled: not a great year for incumbents, but not all that good for conventional oppositions either. Many countries showed a drift to the extreme and unconventional. The strong showing of the far Right in elections to the European Parliament was perhaps the most worrying sign (although not as dramatic as much of the media coverage suggested).
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Anyway, here’s my selection of the top 10 elections for the year, in chronological order:
Hungary, April 6
The right-wing FIDESZ government was re-elected for a second term, narrowly holding onto its two-thirds majority in parliament. Prime Minister Viktor Orban evidently took this as a mandate to move further from the liberal mainstream and cosy up to Vladimir Putin. In reality, however, the three opposition parties won a majority of the vote between them: further evidence that electoral systems can make a great deal of difference.
South Africa, May 7
As usual, not the most exciting of elections, but it’s too important a country to leave out. The gradual shift away from the ANC and towards a real two-party system continued, but with more than 62% of the vote the ANC still dominates the scene to an unhealthy extent.
India, April 7 to May 12
The biggest democratic election ever held, and a decisive repudiation of the Congress Party government. India’s new Prime Minister is Narendra Modi of the Hindu-based Bharatiya Janata Party, a controversial figure whose large majority owed more to the electoral system than to actual voter sentiment.
Belgium, May 25
Another swing against incumbents, with the Flemish separatists consolidating their position as the largest party and this time being too powerful to be denied a place in government. But the result and the subsequent negotiations showed economic issues finally overtaking the ethno-linguistic divide in importance, perhaps a sign of the times in Europe.
Ukraine, also May 25
Chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko won a first-round victory to become president of a country plagued by separatist rebellion and covert Russian intervention. It’s a big job, which so far he seems to have handled reasonably well; subsequent legislative elections gave like-minded parties a large majority.
Colombia, May 25 and June 15
Colombians were given a clear choice, with incumbent Juan Manuel Santos winning endorsement for his policy of peace talks with FARC rebels, albeit by a narrow margin. The discontent with incumbents that showed up in Asia and Europe seemed less noticeable in Latin America.
Indonesia, July 9
Our northern neighbor warded off a perceived threat to democracy when newcomer Joko Widodo narrowly won the presidential election from Prabowo Subianto, the candidate of the old order.
Parliamentary elections earlier in the year had returned a fragmented legislature, making the new president’s task even more difficult than one might expect.
Sweden, September 14
Sweden was very much typical of recent European elections. The centre-Left came out on top, ousting a two-term centre-Right coalition, but its performance was below expectations and the far Right held the balance of power — although for once the established parties refused to pander to it on immigration issues.
Brazil, October 5 and 26
In an election that was somewhat dislocated when an opposition candidate died in a plane crash, centre-Left incumbent Dilma Rousseff scored a narrow victory in the second round over her centre-Right opponent. Voter dissatisfaction was evident, but it was apparently decided to give Rousseff’s party (in office for 12 years) one more chance.
Japan, December 14
The unexpected one, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling a snap election only two years into his term. It gave him the renewed mandate he wanted, but the increase in his vote failed to translate into additional seats because his government had made the electoral system a bit fairer, reducing its unfair advantage.
Stay tuned for more adventures in democracy in 2015.