What to watch for in 2022

The world enters 2022 warily. With hopes for 2021 having been badly disappointed, we are reluctant to set our expectations very high. But on the electoral front this will be an important year. Australia holds elections federally and in two states (South Australia and Victoria), and another four G20 countries also go to the polls – some of them with a great deal at stake.

So to help you plan your year, here’s my selection of the top ten elections to watch for. They’re in expected chronological order, although some dates are not set. There’s also always the possibility of unexpected early elections (Canada was such a case last year); Spain would be a distinct possibility in that category.

South Korea (president, 9 March). Presidents are limited to a single term, so centre-left incumbent Moon Jae-in will be retiring. His party has endorsed Lee Jae-myung to replace him; he currently holds a narrow lead in the polls over conservative Yoon Seok-youl. Either way, the country’s politics are set to remain firmly in the mainstream.

Hungary (parliament, April or early May). In what may be a last stand for Hungarian democracy, authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orbán will face off against a broad-based opposition alliance, which has nominated Péter Márki-Zay as its candidate for prime minister. The two are running neck-and-neck in the polls; if the opposition can pull off a win, it will be a huge boost for democracy in eastern Europe. Serbia and Slovenia are also voting around the same time.

France (president, 10 and 24 April). Centrist incumbent Emmanual Macron is up for re-election, with the main threat this time coming from the centre-right’s Valérie Pécresse. The dynamic of Pécresse’s quest to survive the first round will be fascinating to watch, together with the split on the far right and the balkanisation of the left. Parliamentary elections will follow, almost certainly in June.

Australia (parliament, May?). Australia’s election date has not yet been set, but May is the most likely month. The Trumpist government of prime minister Scott Morrison trails in the polls, but after its surprise win in 2019 its chances can not be written off. The last two years have shown that incumbents are hard to beat in times of crisis, even when the crisis is partly of their own making. Our former colony, Papua New Guinea, is expected to vote around the same time.

Philippines (president and legislature, 9 May). Philippine democracy seems to have survived five years under authoritarian president Rodrigo Duterte, but although he is ineligible to run again, it’s possible his successor will be no improvement. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, son of the late dictator, is the clear front-runner in a large and confusing field.

Lebanon (parliament, 15 May?). Lebanon finally elected a parliament four years ago after long postponement, but it has been largely dysfunctional and the subject of increasing public anger. It’s by no means certain that this year’s poll will go ahead on schedule. Even very imperfect democracy is better than what most of the region can boast, but a complete overhaul of the political system is long overdue.

Kenya (president and parliament, 9 August). Probably Africa’s most significant election for the year: incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta is retiring due to term limits, presenting an opportunity for generational change that would strengthen Kenyan democracy. Elsewhere on the continent, elections are scheduled for Mali, Senegal and Tunisia, plus the unresolved saga of Libya.

Sweden (parliament, 11 September). Sweden’s centre-left government has had some troubled times but with a new prime minister has been gaining ground in the polls. It will be a tough election against a centre-right opposition that relies on the far right for support. Also to watch in the European Union will be elections in Portugal later this month, Malta mid-year and Latvia in October.

Brazil (president and legislature, 2 October). There aren’t as many elections as last year in Latin America (although Colombia in May will be one to watch), but Brazil is the big one. Authoritarian far-right president Jair Bolsonaro trails leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the polls; if Lula wins, it will confirm the region’s recent swing towards the left as well as offering a boost to democracy worldwide.

United States (legislature, 8 November). While it’s only a mid-term congressional election, the fate of American democracy is directly implicated. If the Republican Party wins a majority in both houses – as is distinctly possible – many of its members will be determined to use that position to prepare to steal the 2024 presidential election, in the hope of securing the return of Donald Trump. They are unlikely to succeed, but they could do enormous damage in the attempt.

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