By Arab News
By Andrew Hammond*
As 2018 transitions into 2019, attention is turning to the wide range of key national elections in the next 12 months. These span the globe, and will have potentially big impacts for domestic politics, economics and international relations well into the 2020s.
In the Asia-Pacific region, there is an Indian general election, an Indonesian presidential election, a national ballot in the Philippines and an Afghan presidential election (unless it is delayed due to security concerns).
Perhaps most eye-catching will be the Indian ballot, with 850 million people eligible to vote, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a landmark second term in office against the Congress Party, which is under the dynastic leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
In Europe, there is a European Parliament election, Ukrainian presidential and parliamentary ballots, a Greek parliamentary ballot, and a significant possibility of a snap Brexit-related general election.
The ballot for the European Parliament, which has the ultimate say in selecting in 2019 the replacement for Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president, is likely to be center stage across the continent. It will be the first such election without British representatives returned to office since the early 1970s, when the UK joined the Brussels-based club.
There are growing concerns within mainstream, centrist European parties that populists will poll strongly. If so, this would build on the results from five years ago, which saw Euroskeptics prospering.
In the Middle East and North Africa, there is an Israeli general election, a Tunisian parliamentary and presidential ballot, and a UAE legislative election. Many eyes will be on the Israeli ballot, with the possibility of Benjamin Netanyahu winning a new mandate and becoming the first prime minister in Israeli history to win five terms in office.
In Africa, there are general elections in South Africa and Nigeria, two of the continent’s key countries, plus a presidential ballot in Algeria and a general election in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In South Africa, a key question will be the degree to which voters abandon the African National Congress, which has governed the nation since 1994.
In the Americas, there is a Canadian general election and an Argentinian presidential election. The latter is being closely watched to see if President Mauricio Macri can win a second term, given that his public approval ratings have sunk as Argentina’s economic woes have mounted.
While the outcomes of these ballots are uncertain, what is far surer is that foreign political consultants will be working behind the scenes in many of these countries, trying to steer candidates to success. Originating in the US, political campaigning has become a mini-industry driven by the potentially significant rewards on offer.
For instance, the US Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the overall cost of the 2018 congressional election was more than $5 billion, the costliest ever. Of that massive sum, consultants earned a significant slice for their services, including polling, campaign strategy, telemarketing, digital advice and producing advertisements.
While the international success of this army of consultants is mixed, the phenomenon has had a lasting impact, prompting what some have called the globalization of politics. But in the eyes of critics, it is an international triumph of spin over substance that has tended to promote more homogenous campaigns with a repetitive, common political language.
A key underlying premise is that the consultants’ technologies and tactics can achieve success just about anywhere. Thus many foreign countries are sometimes deemed as mere international counterparts of US election battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida.
What started in the 1960s and 1970s as international elections and campaigning work soon branched out into providing more foreign governments, leaders, and bodies such as tourism and investment authorities, with international communications advice and ultimately “country branding.”
Country branding is founded on the realization that in an overcrowded global information marketplace, countries and political leaders are competing for the attention of investors, tourists, supranational organizations, non-governmental organizations, regulators, media and consumers.
In some cases, a single damaging episode can fundamentally damage a country’s standing, as China found out after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Other countries may simply wish to promote an opportunity based on a specific single goal, such as wanting to attract more foreign direct investment or increasing tourism, as the “Incredible India” campaign illustrates.
Looking to the future, demand for elections, communications and branding advice may only grow. Indeed, globetrotting firms may be on the threshold of some of the most challenging work they have yet encountered, with so many key ballots across the world in 2019.
- Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.