What to watch for in 2021

Happy new year everyone! It won’t have the drawn-out saga of the United States elections, but 2021 will be a bigger year for electoral activity. Five of the G20 countries are going to the polls (although one, Russia, can no longer be called a democracy), with the strong possibility of an early election in Australia, a sixth.

So here, in the expected chronological order (some of which is subject to change), are my top ten elections to look out for in the coming year:

Kyrgyzstan (president, 10 January). A disputed election in this central Asian country last October led to a breakdown of authority and a fresh poll scheduled under an interim government. Its fairness and credibility will determine whether democracy retains a foothold in the region.

Netherlands (parliament, 17 March). The last Dutch election, four years ago, was a major defeat for the far right. Since then the extremists have taken to fighting among themselves, so it will be interesting to see what the electorate makes of it all. There’ll be more elections in north-west Europe later in the year, with Norway and Iceland both voting in September.

Israel (parliament, 23 March). With its fourth election in under two years, Israel will again be trying to find a stable majority combination. But the polarising figure of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose political strategy is increasingly organised around trying to stay out of jail, makes it difficult.

Bulgaria (parliament, 28 March). Two autocratic leaders in eastern Europe went down to defeat last year (in Slovakia and Montenegro); Bulgaria’s Boyko Borisov, who has been plagued by street protests, may well join them. It’s another big year for elections in the region; Albania, Cyprus, Czechia, Kosovo and Moldova will also go to the polls, plus legislative elections (or “elections”) in Russia.

Scotland (regional parliament, 6 May). The first opportunity for voters to judge the success of Brexit, as Scotland’s nationalist government seeks a parliamentary majority and a mandate for a new referendum on independence. Wales also votes on the same day, but its nationalists are still very much a minority.

Mexico (legislature, 6 June). It’s a big electoral year in Latin America as well. In the first half of the year, presidential elections in Ecuador and Peru will be well worth watching. But most interesting perhaps will be Mexico, where the three traditional major parties have formed an electoral alliance to try to win a legislative majority to rein in their populist president.

Iran (president, 18 June). For a country that clearly isn’t a democracy, Iran has some very interesting elections. Reformist president Hassan Rouhani is ineligible for a third term; the contest to succeed him will pit the theocratic leadership against the population’s recurring desire for more democratic input.

Germany (parliament, 26 September). Probably the most significant of the year’s elections, as Germany’s long-serving leader Angela Merkel steps down, with the prospect of being replaced by a coalition between her centre-right party and the Greens.

Japan (parliament, October?). With a new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, at the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Japan is due for an election in October but is quite likely to go earlier. In either case, the lacklustre opposition is not expected to make a big impact, especially with the electoral system working against it.

Chile (president & legislature, 21 November). Argentina holds mid-term legislative elections in October, then Chile chooses a new president the following month, replacing incumbent Sebastián Piñera (presidents cannot serve consecutive terms). Prior to that, a constituent assembly will be elected to draft a new constitution, in accordance with a referendum passed last October.


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