A Year Of Key Votes That Could Shape Our World – OpEd


By Andrew Hammond*

The eyes of much of the world remain on the aftermath of last month’s US presidential and congressional elections, but other eye-catching ballots in the next 12 months will shape not just domestic politics and economics but also international relations well into the 2020s.

In Germany, Europe’s most influential state, September’s election will end the long chancellorship of Angela Merkel, who will not serve again as center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader.  The CDU, which with its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) is well ahead in the polls, will elect a new leader in January who will be in pole position to be the next chancellor.  There are three candidates so far: North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet, corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz and foreign affairs expert Norbert Rottgen.  However, polls of party members indicate the strong favorite is Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder, who has impressed many with his robust response to the coronavirus crisis.  

Whoever replaces Merkel, a dominant figure in European politics for over a decade and a half, she leaves big shoes to fill. Four US presidents (George Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden), four French presidents (Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Francois Hollande and Emmanuel Macron) and five UK prime ministers (Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson) will have served during her tenure.  

The political legacy of a veteran leader will also be key to the Japanese general election next year.  Shinzo Abe stepped down in September after becoming Japan’s longest serving premier. His successor, Yoshihide Suga, has secured solid approval ratings and could gain seats if he continues to impress, ensuring the continued hold on power of the right-of-center Liberal Democratic Party.     

In Israel, another long standing incumbent, Benjamin Netanyahu, is looking to hang on to power in the fourth election in two years.  Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, but his odds of victory lengthened last week when Gideon Sa’ar, a leading rival inside the governing right-of-centre Likud, broke away to form a new political party.  

June’s presidential election in Iran moved up in tempo too last week when the former defense minister, Brig.Gen. Hossein Dehghan, said he was running.  As incumbent Hassan Rouhani nears the end of his two terms, Dehghan, the top military adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and subject to US sanctions since November, is believed to have the backing of Khamenei and the support of revolutionary guards and other key conservative groups.  

Part of the reason he may prove a formidable candidate is that the political wind appears to be blowing in favour of conservatives in Iran after they swept the parliamentary elections this year with a big majority.  While Dehghan served in Rouhani’s first administration as defense minister, he has since been critical of the president, and recently warned against any US military escalation in Donald Trump’s final weeks in office.

There will also be an important parliamentary election in Scotland in May that could herald a second independence referendum in a decade.  The first one in 2014 was lost 55-45 by the Scottish National Party (SNP), but support for the SNP has surged since and some polls indicate that over 50 percent of voters now favour independence.  One potential game changer could be Brexit, which 68 percent of the Scottish electorate voted against in 2016.

In the Americas, the most consequential election may not be a national one, but in the US state of Georgia on Jan. 5. The Democrats, who already have a majority in the House of Representatives, must win both Senate run-off elections in Georgia to take control of the upper house too.  That would transform the first two years of Biden’s presidency, making approval of his domestic legislative agenda more likely. 

While the Georgia ballot is therefore key for Biden’s home agenda, changes of leadership in pivotal powers from Iran to Germany will shape the international relations context for US foreign policy during his presidency. The president may welcome Netanyahu losing power in Israel, but he will miss Merkel’s deep international experience, while the end of Rouhani’s term may result in a much more complicated landscape for any US overtures to Tehran.  

  • Andrew Hammond is an Associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics

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Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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