● Czech Republic – government formation
Nine months after elections were held, the Czech Republic’s center-to-center-left minority government was able to officially take power after winning a confidence vote with the backing of the Communist Party. Wealthy businessman Andrej Babis’s center-right, populist ANO party had finished in a comfortable first place but had had difficulty finding governing partners due to pending fraud charges against Babis. ANO ultimately formed a minority coalition with the traditional center-left Social Democrats but needed the votes of the Communist Party to secure its position at the head of government.
● Macedonia – naming dispute (Sept. 30)
Following a vote in parliament, the Republic of Macedonia will officially hold a referendum on Sept. 30 on whether to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia in order to resolve its longstanding naming dispute with Greece so it can finally join the European Union and NATO. The historic deal with Greece still must pass in the Greek parliament, where the radical-left Syriza party relies on a coalition with the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks, though only Macedonian voters will have to approve the final agreement.
However, there is one other actor that is likely to do what it can to stop Macedonians from approving the name-change: Russia. Macedonian officials reported that a Russian oligarch named Ivan Savvidis, who has ties to Vladimir Putin and has major business interests in Greece, had paid Macedonians thousands of dollars to instigate violence and destabilize the voting process. Furthermore, Russian hacking is another threat in a region where Putin’s regime has been desperate to stop further European integration.
The presidential election in the fledgling democracy of Mali will go to an Aug. 12 runoff between the top two finishers in July’s first round of voting, but opposition candidates have decried those results as flawed. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita officially holds a 41-18 lead over opposition frontrunner Soumaila Cisse, but 3 percent of polling places couldn’t open at all due to armed attacks, and a further 20 percent of polling places saw violence of some kind. Furthermore, opposition candidates including Cisse have alleged instances of ballot box-stuffing. Mali has spent years fighting Islamist militants, and a disputed election could be further destabilizing.
Pakistan’s recent election saw a breakthrough for the centrist Islamist party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) against the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and center-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), but the alleged intervention of the politically powerful military on behalf of the PTI has cast doubts on the integrity of the vote. The PTI, which had been the third-largest party in parliament, surged into first under Pakistan’s first-past-the-post electoral system, winning 34 percent of seats and 32 percent of votes. Meanwhile, the governing PML-N fell to 19 percent of seats with 24 percent of the vote, but the PPP held steady at 13 percent of both seats and votes.
Led by the charismatic former cricket star Imran Khan, the PTI campaigned on a populist platform of opposing corruption and taking on the PML-N/PPP duopoly that had governed Pakistan for decades. Khan will almost certainly become the next prime minister, but it remains to be seen what sort of coalition he will have to cobble together. Minor parties, regional parties, and independents theoretically hold the balance of power, meaning Khan could govern without needing the support of PML-N or the PPP.
PML-N in particular lambasted the military for allegedly preventing the party from effectively campaigning, and in another setback, former PML-N Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was removed from office last year by the Supreme Court, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on controversial corruption charges just weeks before the election. The PML-N rejected the results as rigged, but they said they will abide by the outcome for the sake of democracy. While international observers did not find signs of outright vote tampering, they criticized the election for a “lack of equality and opportunity” among the candidates.
Nevertheless, the results could produce a major shift in Pakistani politics, which has long been dominated by the PML-N and PPP and has seen multiple cases of the military intervening in the country’s political affairs. In a country notorious for corruption, Khan’s anti-corruption drive against the political establishment resonated with voters, particularly in urban areas. The PTI also advocates for a moderate Islamist version of society that includes building an “Islamic welfare state” to provide housing, education, jobs, and healthcare but nevertheless guarantees a secular state.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the final step in solidifying his control of Turkey by winning the country’s revamped presidency with 53 percent of the vote, narrowly avoiding a runoff. Erdogan has led his nation since 2003, having previously served as prime minister and then as president. Last year, Erdogan’s party pushed through significant constitutional changes (which also narrowly passed) that gave the presidency expansive powers to govern with little oversight. Those changes now go into effect.
Turkey, which was once known for a strongly secular elite and military that often removed prime ministers if they governed too far outside the established secular ideology, has now been completely recreated by Erdogan. Erdogan has established what’s best described as an “electoral dictatorship,” where a seeming mandate at the ballot box enables him to take whatever steps he wants. There were no widespread allegations of fraud in the election, but Amnesty International reported that they took place in a “climate of fear.”
The new constitution also reset Erdogan’s term limits, which will allow him to run for re-election in 2023 and stay in power until 2028. Of course, given his history and assuming he’s still in charge, it seems unlikely that the 64-year-old autocrat will simply walk away voluntarily, even a decade from now.
Zimbabwe held its first elections in decades without Robert Mugabe in charge after a 2017 coup finally drove him from his long grip on power. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president who succeeded Mugabe, won election to a full term amid optimism about a new post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. The main opposition party, led by Nelson Chamisa, participated in the election and won 44 percent but claimed that the government had rigged the vote in Mnangagwa’s favor and was engaging in human rights abuses against his opponents. At least three people died in subsequent riots over the results.
It’s difficult to know exactly how free and fair the election was. An EU mission sent to observe for the first time in sixteen years reported “several problems, including media bias, voter intimidation and mistrust in the electoral commission,” but added that while there was an “improved political climate,” it was accompanied by an “unlevel playing field and lack of trust.” The African Union mission said that the election took place in a “peaceful environment” and was “highly competitive.”