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  • Schuyler Beltrami

Elections to Watch for in the First Three Months of 2022

As the world turns the page to a new year, the importance of regional and national elections has become even more pronounced. As many of the world’s countries have drifted further from a true republican democracy and towards more authoritarian forms of government, the elections in these countries could have substantial consequences for millions of people around the globe. In some countries, some of the world’s most influential politicians will be vying for reelection, while in others, voters will be deciding the future fate of their governmental system.

The Millennial Agora has compiled the following list of the most important elections which will take place in the first three months of 2022. As these elections transpire throughout January, February and March, the Millennial Agora will provide in-depth coverage of both the lead-up to these elections, as well as the results of each election.

Portuguese PM António Costa (Photo: Wikipedia)

January: Portuguese Voters Cast their Votes One Year Early

The first key election of 2022 was actually not supposed to be held until 2023. Portuguese parliamentary elections happen within the framework of a four-year cycle and the last election in 2019 led to a victory for incumbent Prime Minister António Costa’s Socialist Party (PS), albeit in a minority government with relatively dependable coalition partners: the Left Bloc and the Communists. Then on December 5, 2021, an event happened which had not happened in the history of democratic Portugal: The Parliament rejected the Government’s proposed 2022 budget.

As a result of this rejection, Prime Minister Costa called for a snap election on January 30, 2022, and promptly dissolved Parliament shortly after the rejection of the government’s proposed budget. The budget in question was seen mostly as a pandemic relief package, but the Socialist Party’s coalition parties on the left decided not to back the government’s budget, since it would lead to income tax cuts and a reduction in Portugal’s deficit. Instead, the parties further to the left of the Socialists advocated for increased public spending. The country is set to receive nearly 16 billion Euros from the European Union’s COVID-19 recovery fund, Next Generation EU. In order for the Iberian nation to receive these funds, the country must first set their own national budget, thus the urgent nature of these elections.

Although the Socialist Party, according to recent election polls, is on track to be the most dominant party in the upcoming elections, the question will really be how strong they will be compared to their key opponents, the center-right Social Democrats and if they can form another minority government coalition with their ideological brethren on the left. For a country which has become a poster child for post-2008 economic recovery, as well as vaccine acceptance (no country in the EU has been vaccinated more than Portugal), these elections will determine whether the Portuguese prefer the status quo of socialist leadership or if a swing to the right is in order.

February: One of West Africa’s Most Unstable Countries (Should) Go to the Polls

For the past ten years, the West African nation of Mali, famous for the remains of the fabled city of Timbuktu, has been locked in a deadly insurgency against jihadist elements in the north. The conflict in the country has undergone multiple forms. Part insurgency, part civil war, part proxy war, the West African country of over 20 million has been one of the region’s most unstable states. Multiple European nations, including France (the former colonial holders of Mali) and Germany, have sent divisions of troops into the Saharan nation to attempt to reestablish stability in the country.

Under these circumstances Mali will attempt to hold elections in February of 2022. But these elections are in no way a sure thing. Although the country has been officially democratic since 1991, the country was downgraded by the international democracy watchdog group Freedom House from “partly free” to “not free” in its latest rankings in 2021. During a nine-month span between 2020-2021, Mali suffered two military coups both led by the same man, Colonel Assimi Goïta.

The first coup occurred after legislative elections in April 2020 were marred by irregularities and brought in a transitional President and Prime Minister (Bah Ndaw and Moctar Ouane, respectively) to manage the country until the upcoming presidential elections in February. The second coup toppled these two transitional politicians after they planned democratic reforms, a move which the military leadership of Mali was against. Now Col. Goïta has assumed leadership of the country and it is completely unclear whether the planned elections in February will go forward.

Even if the elections do happen, and even if they are free and fair (which is highly unlikely), the incoming administration would be in many ways subordinate to the military who is responsible for defeating insurgents and restoring peace to the country.

March: A Political Squid Game in South Korea’s Elections

Although normally seen as a model for democracy and prosperity in East Asia, South Korea’s recent internal politics have been riddled with corruption, jailed politicians, and chaos. Incumbent President Moon Jae-in is ineligible for a second five-year term, after coming to power following the impeachment of former President Park Guen-hye in 2016, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $17 Million for his role in a large corruption scandal. President Moon’s term as President has been a roller-coaster to say the least.

He has earned extremely high marks for his peace negotiations with North Korea and in 2020 for his handling of the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, but economic stagnation, a high youth unemployment rate, as well as a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 infections in December has lowered the President’s approval rating from a one-time high of over 80% to a recent low of 34%.

The recent crash in approval ratings has opened the door for other politicians and parties to take over the Asian nation which was described by Foreign Policy magazine as “highly stratified”. Generally, there are four candidates representing four different parties who will by vying for leadership in the world’s tenth largest economy. Lee Jae-myung of the incumbent liberal Democratic Party, and Yoon Seok-youl of the opposition PPP (People Power Party), a party first formed in 2020 after a monumental merger of many center-right parties are largely seen as the two candidates with the best chance of winning the March elections. Finally, Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People Party and Sim Sang-jung of the progressive Justice Party are also looking to take the reigns of South Korea.

As with the incumbent President Moon, both Lee and Yoon are facing allegations of corruption. These two frontrunners represent political ideologies which could find close parallels in the US system. A self-described fan of Bernie Sanders and a proponent of a universal basic income, Mr. Lee of the Democratic Party represents a big tent of South Korean liberal and progressive ideologies. Meanwhile, Mr. Yoon of the center-right PPP looks to abolish the minimum wage and maximum working hours, in order to help the growth of business in the country. Both politicians share similar views on how to handle their hostile Northern neighbors, vowing to continue talks with North Korea. Mr. Yoon, however, is in favor of housing nuclear warheads from the United States in South Korea.

Powered by younger voters, particularly dissatisfied, anti-feminism young men, the center-right PPP has been trending highly in pre-election polls (42% compared to 31% for the Democratic Party) and the party has been winning an important string of local elections.

Whether Asia’s fourth largest economy will stay with center-left, progressive politics or swing right could have ripples throughout other democratic Asian countries, most notably the Philippines, who will have their own elections in May, which will be covered in the Millennial Agora’s next update on important elections in 2022 due out in late March.

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