Malaysian Prime Ministerial candidate Mahathir Mohamad

It’s shaping up as another big year for elections (here’s my review of how 2017 went down). Five of the G20 countries will vote in 2018 (although one of them, Russia, can’t really be counted as a democracy), not to mention the possibility of early elections in some others — Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom all have problems that could send them back to the polls.

Even if the federal scene stays quiet, Australia will have three state elections: South Australia on March 17, Tasmania sometime in March/April, and Victoria on November 24. Tasmania’s Liberal government looks to be in a degree of trouble, while Labor governments in the other two will hope that the tide is still running in their favor. Nick Xenophon, however, is a major wild card in South Australia.

For the rest of the world, based on what we know so far (some dates are tentative), here’s my list of the top ten elections to watch for.

Italy, March 4

We’ve been half-expecting an early Italian election for a couple of years now, but in fact its dysfunctional parliament has managed to last a full term. It’s going to be a fascinating multi-layered contest, with opportunity for the populist Five Star Movement, another potential comeback for Silvio Berlusconi, and the unpredictable effect of a new electoral system.

Hungary, April/May

European extremists had some setbacks last year, but they remain powerful in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has led his country away from the liberal mainstream and towards authoritarianism and friendship with Russia. Despite some early successes, the opposition seems divided and ineffectual, and has a lot of ground to make up.

Malaysia, mid-year

Last time around, Malaysia’s opposition won a majority of the vote but was denied victory by the electoral system. Since then the governing party has split, with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad deserting to the opposition. It looks as if the country may be in for its first-ever real change of government.

Colombia, May 27

Incumbent president and Nobel laureate Juan Manuel Santos, who started out on the centre-right but tracked to the left, is retiring due to term limits. The contest to succeed him will tell us a lot about how Colombians feel about the peace deal that Santos successfully pursued with the far-left Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.

Mexico, July 1

Mexico is again set for a three-way presidential contest between centre-right, centre and left. Its first-past-the-post voting system makes this something of a lottery, but the incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party is currently running third, so change of some sort looks to be on the way.

Pakistan, July 15

Pakistan made history five years ago with its first fully democratic transition of power, and the government, despite losing its prime minister last year on corruption charges, has served a full term and leads in the opinion polls. Not surprisingly, the more the country looks like a functioning democracy, the more it has aroused the ire of Donald Trump.

Zimbabwe, August/September

After a coup last November removed his long-serving and increasingly autocratic predecessor Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa will be under a lot of scrutiny. Will he fulfil his promises to hold genuinely free elections, or will the authoritarian habit be too hard to break?

Sweden, September 9

Another post on the front line against right-wing populism. Sweden’s Social Democrats have led a minority government since 2014, when the mainstream parties signed a broad agreement to keep out the far right. The rival coalitions of centre-left and centre-right are currently running neck-and-neck in the polls.

Brazil, October 7

Latin America has swung clearly to the right in the last two or three years; one of the landmarks was the impeachment and removal of Brazil’s centre-left president in 2016. If the left is going to make a comeback it could start here, but former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva may be prevented from running by corruption charges.

United States, November 6

No presidential election this year, but the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be elected. The Democrats are riding high in the polls, and at this stage are on track to take back control of both houses. A lot can happen before November, but if they do pull it off it will spell trouble for President Donald Trump — unless his own Republicans desert him first.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey