Votes that could change the world
Story from BBC NEWS
Published: 2009/02/04 10:48:05 GMT
The year 2009 is a big one for global democracy.
The Iraqi provincial elections on Saturday marked the start of a year of polls that could bring big changes, for better or worse. Israel votes on 10 February, while India, the world's biggest democratic country, votes in spring, followed quickly by Iran and Afghanistan.
Provincial elections, 31 January 2009; Parliamentary election in December
The January elections passed off peacefully, in stark contrast to the last provincial election in 2005. Many Iraqi Sunnis cast ballots for the first time after boycotting previous polls, increasing Iraq's chances of holding together as an integrated state. (Secular Shia parties appear to have gained ground at the expense of the currently dominant religious-based ones, which many Iraqis blame for taking the country to the brink of civil war in the 2006-7.)
The three Kurdish-ruled provinces that make up autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan have yet to schedule provincial elections, for internal reasons, though elections to the regional parliament have been called for May. The disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk - an area over which Kurds claim sovereignty but which has a mixed ethnic population - also sat out these latest elections because divisions over the electoral system were seen as too hard to bridge.
As long as arguments over the provincial election results can be avoided, elections seem likely to hasten the withdrawal of US troops. Observers also regard the vote as a possible clue to the outcome of the parliamentary election in December. (That could be good news for prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose allies appear to have been the big winners this time.)
Parliamentary election, 10 February
In the wake of the Gaza conflict, voters will be able to have their say on the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The two leading parties - the centrist Kadima party and the right-wing Likud party - have contrasting positions on US-backed negotiations with the Palestinians, with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni pledging to push them forward, and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu saying he would concentrate on boosting the Palestinian economy instead. He opposes any agreement that would divide Jerusalem.
Opinion polls suggest Likud is likely to end up in a position to form a coalition government, with the help of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which has a chance of becoming the country's third largest party. Its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, has long called for crushing military action against Hamas. He also wants to expel Arab citizens from the country.
Correspondents also see the country making a lurch to the right. The Labour Party, led by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, enjoyed a surge in support as a result of the Gaza operation, but not enough to put it in reach of Likud or Kadima.
Parliamentary and presidential, March/April (prévu 22 avril 2009)
South Africa's elections expected in March or April are set to be the most exciting since Nelson Mandela became president in 1994. In the parliamentary vote the ruling African National Congress faces its first major democratic challenge from a new breakaway party - the Congress of the People (Cope) - formed when the ANC ousted its previous leader Thabo Mbeki from the presidency.
Cope hopes to benefit from popular dissatisfaction with the ANC's economic record after 14 years in power. It has its eyes set on gaining control of key provinces such as Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Western Cape and hopes to stop the ANC from winning a two-thirds majority in parliament. This would enable the ANC to change the constitution, for example by guaranteeing immunity from prosecution to ANC leader Jacob Zuma - a strong favourite for the post of president.
Parliamentary election, April; Presidential election, July
People in Indonesia's 18,000 islands will be going to the polls twice this year, with parliamentary elections in April and the presidential vote scheduled for July. It is only the second democratic presidential election the country has held - regarded as a crucial stepping stone for a young democracy, especially if it results in a peaceful transfer of power.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already signalled his intention to stand for re-election, as has former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, but there are others waiting in the wings who also stand a chance of leading the world's most populous Muslim country.
The main issues exercising voters are likely to be the economy, employment opportunities and the fight against corruption - especially high-level corruption, which continues to plague Indonesian politics.
Parliamentary election, April/May
More than 230 parties, including six main national ones, will be seeking the votes of India's 650-million-plus voters this spring. The result will be a coalition government, probably led either by India's ruling Grand Old Party, the centre-left Congress, or the centre-right Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
At the last election in 2004 these two parties took just over half the seats in parliament. But regional and caste-based parties are on the rise in India. The Bahujan Samaj Party of the low-caste Dalits (formerly Untouchables), scored a remarkable election victory in Uttar Pradesh in 2007, and its feisty leader Mayawati, a former teacher, could emerge from the national election as a big player in coalition negotiations.
State elections in December were not encouraging for the BJP, despite its charge that the Congress-led government's weakness was responsible for the Mumbai attacks. But India's slowing economic growth is bad news for Congress.
The big question is whether the next coalition will be strong enough to pursue bold policies, or whether it will be hamstrung by the conflicting agendas of its many members.
Presidential election, 12 June
The controversial incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, could become the first president of the Islamic republic not to be re-elected for a second four-year term.
It is thought he may face a strong challenger in the form of Ali Larijani, the speaker of parliament - a conservative, but a man who speaks the language of international diplomacy and may be prepared to engage in dialogue with the new US leadership. Until late 2007, he was Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator.
The reformist and former president, Mohammad Khatami, is also being pressed by supporters to stand again. Many reformist voters boycotted the 2005 election that brought Mr Ahmadinejad to power, but are expected to take part this time. Mr Khatami attempted to introduce change during his two terms in office but was thwarted by the conservative establishment.
The key issue is the economy - oil prices have fallen, inflation is more than 25% and unemployment is rising.
Other possible candidates are Mr Ahmadinejad's successor as mayor of Tehran, Mohamed Baqer Qalibaf, a conservative, and the reformist Mehdi Karroubi, who offered anyone in Iran a $50 (£29) hand-out last time he stood for election.
Presidential election, summer
The vote - originally due to take place in May - has been postponed until August because of the deteriorating security situation, in particular the conflict in the south and east of the country between Taleban militants on the one hand, and international and Afghan government forces on the other.
If the election goes ahead in August the big question is whether the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group, will turn out to vote. If the Afghan government is to succeed, it must engage and win the trust of its people.
Despite falling popularity at home and abroad, the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has already announced that he will be seeking a second term. Other Afghan political heavyweights are expected to enter the fray this spring. Among those thought likely to be seeking the top job are a number of former ministers, including Ali Jalali, Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, as well as the powerful provincial governor Gul Agha Sherzai. There is also speculation that the Afghan-born American ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, could throw his hat into the ring.
Parliamentary election, by September
Japan has to hold a general election by the end of September 2009, and it could prove an important turning point in Japanese political history. For the past 50 years, the leading Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has ruled the country almost continually, but this time the rival Democratic Party ( DPJ) has a real chance of emerging victorious. The LDP has faced a series of problems in the past year, with economic woes, corruption scandals and parliamentary deadlock leading to consistently low approval ratings.
Taro Aso was chosen as prime minister in September, his two predecessors having lasted just a year each. There was speculation that he might hold elections soon after he came to office, while his popularity was still high. But with falling ratings, and a worsening economic forecast, the prospect of early elections now seems more doubtful.
Parliamentary election, 27 September
The election pits the two components of the current governing coalition against one another - Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) against Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's Social Democrats (SPD). Neither wants to be forced into a re-run of the same "grand coalition". The Christian Democrats would prefer a partnership with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), while the Social Democrats would prefer to deal with the Greens.
But German politics are getting more complicated, and an uncomfortable three-way coalition could well be the outcome - a so-called "traffic light" partnership of SPD, FDP and Greens, or a "Jamaica" coalition of CDU, FDP and Greens.
Both Mrs Merkel and Mr Steinmeier are aiming for the political centre ground. The economic crisis has put Mrs Merkel's high approval rating under pressure; after ruling out fiscal measures to stimulate the economy, she was criticised for being slow to act, and has since cut taxes and boosted spending.