● United Kingdom – referendum on EU membership (June 23)
What happens to a country when its voters, against almost all advice from both elected officials and a wide range of experts, decide to disregard all of it and vote for a nation-defining change anyway? The United Kingdom, the European Union, and the world are now finding out, after the British people voted by a small but definitive 52-48 margin to leave the European Union, consequences be damned. Britons have set their country on a course to a brave new world and can only hope that in the end, they find a better one than Aldous Huxley imagined. But don't hope too hard.
There are many, many angles to explore when it comes to "Brexit," the ugly portmanteau coined to describe the British exit from the EU, so we'll start at the start: Why did U.K. voters vote the way they did? While the few elite voices supporting Brexit often pointed to diminished British sovereignty as a consequence of EU membership, voters themselves overwhelmingly saw Brexit as the only way to control mass immigration, particularly from Eastern Europe. All members of the European Union are part of a single economic market, of which a key pillar is freedom of movement, just as in the U.S.—itself a single economic market—where goods and people are free to move from state to state without impediment. That means any citizen of an EU country can move to any other EU country with almost as little effort as an American moving from Oklahoma to California.
Starting with the admission of a number of Eastern European countries to the EU in the 2000s, there's been significant migration to the U.K., particularly from Poland. But there's a much greater difference in both GDP levels and culture between EU member nations than there is between states in the U.S., which of course share a single primary language. And with the U.K. government essentially powerless to curb immigration, voters who feared or resented the influx of poorer, non-British immigrants saw Brexit as the only way to control their country's borders—and they took it. (Sound like the backers of any presidential candidates you know?)
Support for "Leave" was widespread across England and Wales, two of the U.K.'s four constituent countries, which both voted 53-47 for Brexit. The cosmopolitan big cities where residents have generally embraced both immigration and a more pan-European identity backed "Remain," but elsewhere, Leave not only prevailed overwhelmingly, it cut across traditional ideological fault-lines, too. Labour heartlands in the north of England voted for Leave, for instance, but they were mostly matched across the swingy Midlands and the Tory south. Indeed, Leave carried every region of England outside of London and also largely won in Wales outside of the capital of Cardiff. Proponents of Remain had banked on fears of economic insecurity driving swing voters back to them in the end, as Leave was widely forecast to significantly hurt the British economy in both the short and long-term, but enough voters either didn't believe that message or didn't care.
Key exceptions to the small town/big city divide, however, showed up in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, the two other countries that make up the United Kingdom. Scotland, which voted against independence in 2014 partly in order to stay in the EU, voted for Remain by a hefty 62-38 margin. Scotland's political energy over the past decade has been consumed by the independence debate, resulting in a situation where few in the country saw Leave as a positive: Pro-independence voters have always wanted to be a part of the EU, preferring to embrace a European rather than British identity, while Scots who want to remain a part of the U.K. fear Brexit would lead to a second independence referendum, which it very well might.
Northern Ireland, meanwhile, voted to stay 56-44. Importantly, it's the only constituent country in the U.K. that shares a land border with another EU member (in this case, the Republic of Ireland), which, as we alluded above, is currently more like a border between U.S. states rather than the frontier between two different countries. Brexit not only threatens the openness of that border, it also endangers the historic Good Friday Agreement that finally brought peace to the country after decades of fighting, as the EU membership shared by the U.K., Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland was a key to peace in the 1990s.
Finally, Gibraltar, a British protectorate on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, also voted overwhelmingly for Remain for reasons similar to Northern Ireland's: Gibraltarians have no desire to impose controls at their land border with their much bigger neighbor, Spain, another EU member. In a great irony, Spain itself had used its power over that border to try to abuse Gibraltar into reunification, something it was only forced to stop doing once the EU's freedom-of-movement policies came into effect.
What comes next?
But now that Leave has won, what will happen? So far, no official actions have been taken by either the U.K. or the EU. The process for leaving the EU requires any country wishing to leave to officially notify the EU by invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the 2009 treaty that for the first time codified member states' legal right to quit the union.
Crucially, the Brexit referendum was not legally binding, so until the government officially makes that notification, nothing can or will change. Assuming Article 50 is indeed invoked, the EU and the U.K. will have two years to hammer out some sort of new status between the two of them. If no deal has been reached in two years, the U.K. will find itself out in the cold, with no more official connection to Europe than enjoyed by the U.S. or any other country. But even leading Brexit proponents really don't want that result, so they are looking to informally negotiate an exit plan before pushing the button on Article 50. The EU, however, wants to move on quickly (to help deter Brexit copycats) and has called on the U.K. to invoke Article 50 sooner rather than later.
The outstanding question is what will the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union look like post-Brexit? No one, including the leading voices of the Leave campaign, really knows. The U.K. would like to remain in the EU's common market (an enormous free-trade zone that brings significant economic benefit) yet still control the migration of EU citizens to the U.K., likely by using some version of the points-based immigration system popularized by Australia (the U.K. already uses a similar system for non-EU migrants). The EU has outright rejected this approach, though, and is committed to the idea that a single market must include the freedom of movement. The EU would, of course, just prefer that the U.K. drop all this silliness and stay, but that's currently unlikely. So what are the options?
One popular choice favored by some Leave politicians is the "Norway" model. Norway is not a member of the EU but is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), the official name for the European single market. Norway and Norwegian citizens have all the economic rights and responsibilities of EU countries but do not participate in many of the EU's non-economic functions. (For example Norway is not subject to the European Court of Justice, and Norway must pass all new EU laws for them to come into effect.) This satisfies many of the complaints that leading Leave campaigners have, but not the biggest issues among Leave voters. As a member of the single market, Norway also allows the freedom movement of people, including the unlimited migration of EU citizens to Norway (and vice versa). That is clearly not what many Leave voters intended when they voted for Brexit.
There's a similar, somewhat less formal, alternative called the "Swiss" model, which gives Switzerland some more flexibility over EU directives but still involves the free movement of people. Importantly, both Switzerland and Norway built up their relationship with the EU over decades, back when the union was far less sure of what it was and what it wanted to be. It's unclear if the EU is willing to set up new special arrangements for a country that is only now just announcing that it's walking out the door.
That leaves us with the "Canada" model. Canada recently negotiated a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union, which does not give it access to the single market, but lowers or eliminates many barriers of trade. This would be a step back for the U.K. but a far smaller one than leaving without any deal at all, which would badly harm the British economy. This would also allow the U.K. to fully control its own borders and implement its desired immigration system.
However, this deal took five years to negotiate and still has yet to come into force—time that the U.K. simply doesn't have. It also required the work of numerous trade negotiators on both sides, of which the U.K. currently has none on the payroll, since it had outsourced all such matters to the EU for ages. In fact, Britain’s foreign secretary even said the U.K. would look to hire negotiators from other countries! And the Canada-EU deal only involved two parties. The U.K. would have to forge new agreements not just with the EU itself but all of the 50-odd nations that have their own pacts with the EU. Good luck doing that in two years with zero peeps. So while "Canada" might seem like the best option, its feasibility is highly questionable.
BRACKUP: When Britain itself cracks up
And these alternatives don't even begin to tackle the issues of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar, which threaten to split up the U.K. itself. Scotland voted down independence in part because of concerns that it would have to apply for EU membership as a separate country, an arduous and lengthy process. Now, of course, their brothers and sisters who asked them to stay have decided the whole family should move. Many believe the pro-independence Scottish National Party will seek a second independence referendum, though such a vote would again require sign-off from the British prime minister. But if a new referendum were successful, an independent Scotland would either get to remain a part of the EU or at least be allowed to rejoin it.
Northern Ireland is in a stickier situation. No one wants to see a fortified land border reimposed on Irish soil, but no one knows if it's possible for the U.K. to leave the EU without one being reinstated. To forestall this, the nationalist Sinn Fein party has called for a pan-Irish referendum on reuniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, which were split in 1921. Unlike a possible Scottish referendum, an Irish one will almost certainly never happen because, among other things, the U.K. would not want to abandon Protestant Unionists in Northern Ireland. But the prospect of Brexit and a closed Irish border could have very negative repercussions. A worst-case scenario would involve a reignition of "The Troubles," the low-grade but devastatingly deadly sectarian guerilla war that plagued the region for decades and was only ended by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
So, given that Brexit was merely advisory rather than legally binding, that the alternatives to EU membership don't address the main complaint of Leave voters or aren't feasible, and that leaving could break up the U.K. itself, why not just stay? That's what some are advocating, either through a second referendum or simply by having Parliament ignore the vote. But it's extremely hard for a democratically elected government to decide to hand a choice to the people and then, having received the people's answer, decide it was a poor one and should be ignored. A more realistic alternative would be to delay the process as long as possible, both in terms of invoking Article 50 and conducting any trade negotiations. Wait long enough, the thinking goes, and the U.K. might undergo a big enough political change before it actually leaves that voters change their mind and decide they want a do-over. But for now, the people have spoken, and it appears that the Tory government is listening.
Brexit’s Impact on U.K. Politics
Speaking of the Tories, the Leave victory has roiled British politics to a degree not seen since the pre-war years. The morning after the vote, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intention to resign as soon as a new leader of his party can be chosen. Cameron had promised a referendum prior to the 2015 general election as a short-term political solution to deal with his right flank, assuming that the Tories would wind up in another coalition with the pro-EU Liberal Democratic Party (who would try to block a referendum), or that he could win a referendum even if one were held. He was wrong on both counts, and a prime minister whose legacy might have included modernizing the Tories, passing gay marriage, and eliminating the deficit will now be remembered for witlessly leading the U.K. out of the EU.
The process of electing a new Tory leader (and since the Tories hold a majority in Parliament, a new prime minister) involves the party's members of Parliament (MPs) voting on candidates, eliminating the lowest vote-getter each round, until two remain. Those two are then put to the party membership of about 150,000, who elect the new leader. Boris Johnson, a prominent Tory MP and former mayor of London, was one of the most prominent leaders of the Leave campaign and was widely seen as a favorite to replace Cameron if Leave won. However, Johnson, only hours from announcing a leadership bid, was blindsided when Michael Gove, the former Justice Secretary and another prominent Tory Leaver, announced his own campaign. Johnson had believed Gove would support him, but, seeing no path without Gove's backing and a unified Leave faction, decided not to run. Andrea Leadsom, a less prominent Leave supporter, announced for leader and inherited the largest part of Johnson's supporters, including Johnson himself.
Theresa May, the home secretary (sort of like a vastly more important Director of Homeland Security), quickly consolidated support from a majority of MPs. Most Tories didn't particularly want to see Cameron go, even if they supported Leave, and May was the closest to a Cameron heir in the race. She also smartly announced for Remain and then disappeared during the referendum campaign itself, making her a Remain candidate palatable to Leave supporters. The Tory MPs voted this past week and narrowed the field to May and Leadsom with Gove out of the race after finishing third. The winner of the two-person contest will be announced Sept. 9 and installed as Prime Minister soon after.
One would imagine the opposition Labour Party would be thrilled by the Conservative turmoil and the resignation of the man who had just beaten them in the last two general elections. But Labour decided that anything the Tories could mess up, they could mess up ten times messier. Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime leftist MP, has led the Labour Party since last fall, when he won a strong vote of Labour party members and supporters despite having next to zero support within the Parliamentary Labour Party itself. (The PLP consists of all the Labour MPs in Parliament, like the House Democratic Caucus.) Corbyn did not expect to win when he entered but rode a wave of discontent with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's centrist "New Labour" and a Labour elite that had lost touch with its membership.
Corbyn holds many views to the left of where the Labour party had been, including re-nationalizing some industries and eliminating Britain's nuclear weapons. He's also made worrying comments in the realm of foreign policy. However, the issue since the fall has largely not been Corbyn's policy positions; his problem is that he's not a very good party leader. That, however, was only to be expected. Corbyn spent his entire career in politics as an outsider, pushing his party to the left—not an unuseful role under the right circumstances.
But he'd never held any sort of cabinet or shadow cabinet position, normally seen as a requirement before becoming a party leader, and he always seemed more eager to take shots at his own party rather than opposition. In one painful example from earlier this year, documentary filmmakers recorded Corbyn deliberately watering down a speech that was meant to highlight a potentially explosive division among the Tories when a top cabinet member shockingly resigned after opposing Cameron on benefit cuts—much to the dismay of his party's strategists.
Corbyn also has a history of so-called "Euroskepticism," and while he came out for Remain, no one would say he went all-out to try to push Remain across the finish line. (Some reports even claim that his camp actively sabotaged the Remain campaign.) In the wake of this dismal performance, a number of Labour shadow cabinet members resigned and called a vote of no-confidence, which Corbyn lost overwhelmingly among the PLP, 172-40. The vote, however, has no practical effect; Corbyn can only be removed by a vote of the same party membership that swept him into power in the first place.
Still, it's unheard of for a parliamentary party leader to continue in his role after losing the confidence of 80 percent of his MPs. But Corbyn never had the confidence of his MPs in the first place, since he was elected over their wishes. This has caused a crisis within Labour. Corbyn can't really lead a party without his MPs, but the PLP can't get rid of him without a membership vote it's not sure it can win. And the membership would probably like both sides to work together, something that seems impossible.
As a result, Corbyn's opponents have repeatedly held off on forcing a new leadership election (which they could easily call) in the hopes that Corbyn will decide to either step down or negotiate a deal whereby he'd hand power to someone from the party's left wing who's nevertheless acceptable to the PLP. But Corbyn has resisted all calls to resign and has essentially called the MPs bluff, daring them to take it to the same electorate that gave him 59 percent support just 10 months ago.
YouGov conducted a poll of Labour party members and while they do show erosion in Corbyn's support, he still leads his likely challenger, MP Angela Eagle, by 10 points (YouGov has a history of accurate forecasts when it comes to party membership elections). If an election is called, the results would be announced at the Labour Party's annual conference in late September. If Corbyn wins again, it's possible the PLP would set up its own leadership operation (sort of a "shadow shadow cabinet"), or some Labour MPs could even split off and form a new party (as happened in the 1980s—to disastrous effect).
Unfortunately for Labour, even if it weren't dealing with a leadership crisis, it still has to deal with the disconnect between its support for Remain and the fact that most of its parliamentary constituencies voted for Leave. Like the party elite, most Labour voters themselves voted to Remain. However, they were concentrated in a smaller number of Labour constituencies where the vote was lopsided for Remain; far more districts voted for Leave but by more modest margins. (This is a bit like the problem U.S. Democrats face with the House of Representatives.) Making matters even worse, most of the seats Labour narrowly lost to the Tories in the 2015 general election also backed Leave, complicating their efforts to win back power if they campaign as a pro-EU party. Overall, Leave won in approximately 421 constituencies while just 229 backed Remain—and that disproportionate Leave advantage would only grow more lopsided if Scotland seceded and took its 59 Remain seats with it.
If two party leadership elections weren't enough, Nigel Farage, the leader of the pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party, has decided to take his victory and sail off into the sunset. Farage left the Conservative party in the 90s and co-founded the right-wing populist UKIP, based largely on a platform of the U.K. abandoning the EU. Having almost single-handedly made it an electoral force in the intervening decades and pushing Cameron into the position of calling for the referendum, Farage got exactly what he dedicated his life to.
He also perpetrated an extraordinary falsehood to help get it: The day after the election, Farage admitted it had been a “mistake” to claim that £350 million a week that the U.K. supposedly sends to the EU would instead be redirected to Britain's National Health Service if Leave prevailed—one of the biggest promises Brexit supporters had made throughout the campaign. But Farage no longer has to concern himself about the future, and where his party goes from here is unclear. Assuming the U.K. does in fact leave the EU over the next few years, the xenophobic UKIP could morph into a more traditional party of mostly conservative white working class English and Welsh nationalists.
Meanwhile, the centrist Liberal Democrats could potentially rebound from last year's disastrous general election where they lost the overwhelming majority of their seats. They're the only party where both the leadership and the membership strongly support Remain and have an unchallenged, broadly supported leader, Tim Farron. Farron has pledged to contest the next election on a platform of keeping the country in the EU, which no other major party has done. And after all, 48 percent of the country did vote to Remain, giving the party a broad target list of future supporters, particularly if the Tories become the party of Leave and Labour continues its internecine civil war.
So when will those next elections come? There was much discussion of early elections in the immediate wake of the Brexit vote and Cameron's resignation, but as of now, Teresa May, the frontrunner to replace Cameron, has ruled it out, and with a majority, the Tories are the ones who get to decide. (Leadsom, however, has not given a definitive position on whether to call a snap election.) On the other hand, many observers have speculated that a new Tory prime minister would want her own mandate from the public, perhaps once the U.K. has settled negotiations with the EU. But until further notice, the next U.K. general election is scheduled for May 2020.
How Brexit’s playing on the Continent
Brexit may, however, impact elections in other countries much sooner than that. The U.K.'s vote to leave has emboldened right-wing Euroskeptics across the continent. Leaders of far-right parties hailed the measure in several countries, and some, such as the French National Front's Marine Le Pen, have called for their own countries to hold their own EU membership referendums. However, the limited polling that exists shows other countries' enthusiasm for leaving is far lower than it was in the U.K.
Another key difference between the U.K. and other EU countries is their electoral systems. The U.K. uses a "first-past-the-post" system similar to the one used in most U.S. elections, where only a plurality is needed to win an election (and smaller parties thus tend to get locked out). Much of Europe, by contrast, relies on proportional representation, where parties receive seats in proportion to the popular vote they receive. That typically leads to a greater number of parties, which are also more ideologically cohesive internally.
But under the U.K. system (like the U.S. system), the two major parties must have very big tents to win national elections and can't afford splits with their left or right camps. Cameron's party is full of anti-EU politicians who, in another European country, might belong to a different, more right-wing party than a center-right party like the Tories. Cameron therefore believed he had to make peace with his right flank in some way, hence the referendum—a pressure other center-right leaders in Europe wouldn't face.
Just because parties in other European parliaments aren't as internally divided, though, doesn't mean that they don't face any political pressures over the EU. Right-wing populism has increased dramatically in popularity in Europe over the past two decades, particularly in the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crisis and 2015's refugee crisis. With many Europeans fed up with immigration, globalization, and the EU's opaque decision-making process, these parties will continue to thrive. Just because the U.K. finally voted for Brexit doesn't mean UKIP will suddenly fade away without its signature issue if it can continue tapping into nativist working-class resentment.
Like Brexit, the next big tests for European unity will likely be Austria's do-over presidential election and an Italian constitutional reform referendum in October. Austria will elect its mostly-ceremonial head of state and faces a choice between an anti-immigrant, anti-EU far-right candidate and a very pro-EU Green Party candidate. The country previously voted to elect the Green by a razor-thin margin in May but the results were annulled by a court over procedural technicalities with a re-vote ordered this fall. (See our Austria coverage below for more details.)
Italy's referendum, meanwhile, seeks to reform the country's parliament to resolve its perpetual gridlock and doesn't directly affect its relationship with the EU. However, the pro-EU center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has staked his career on its success, with the possibility for early parliamentary elections should it fail, as polls suggest it could. And indeed, two Euroskeptic populist parties have surged in support since the 2013 elections. The Northern League is a more typical anti-immigrant right-wing populist party, but the Five Star Movement is much more ideologically disparate, combining proposals from the left, right, and center under an anti-establishment, anti-corruption banner. Polls currently have the Five Star Movement tied with Renzi's Democratic Party. The Brexit vote has also seriously undermined Italy's already feeble financial system, sparking fears of a banking crisis that could be politically devastating.
And France, Germany, and the Netherlands also all have key national elections next year where the far-right is expected to make gains. Just as with UKIP in the U.K., even if these parties don't outright win power, their surging popularity could cause mainstream parties to adopt increasingly extreme positions to ward off challenges to their rule, with possibly disastrous results for European unity.
Brexit, said one wag, is like “quitting your job because you think you can get it back minus all the parts you don't like.” It’s also a bit like driving your car head-long into a brick wall: In the aftermath, there’s a good chance things will get worse before they get better, and there’s going to be plenty of damage to assess. As the U.K., Europe, and the world sort through the wreckage and try to piece it back together, we’ll be watching closely.
● Australia – parliament (July 2)
As we wrote in our last update, Australia's had a wild ride over the previous decade, changing its prime minister four times in the past eight years alone. And while some observers expected the country's new parliamentary elections to yield an easy victory for the ruling center-right Liberal–National Coalition, instead we saw yet another drama-filled week Down Under. Neither the governing parties nor the opposition center-left Australian Labor Party (ALP) achieved a majority on election night, and the presence of five minor party and independent members mean that a hung parliament—where no party or alliance is able to put together a majority, something Aussies experienced from 2010 to 2013—is still possible.
It's now looking less likely, though, but only narrowly. Ballots submitted by mail have been counted throughout the week and have favored the Coalition, which will probably win just enough seats to hold on to a bare majority (it also secured the support of one of the independents). However, the Coalition had expected a much clearer victory, and questions remain over its internal polling failures—as well as the job security of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (who, you may recall, took the position last fall in a party coup from then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott).
In this case, though, the polls were right; it was the pundits who were wrong. Public polling had shown a tossup, but Australian media seemed to buy into both the Coalition's confidence and the Australian political rule that first-term governments always win re-election (it's been 85 years since a first-term government lost, though both 2010 and this year were squeakers). But the ALP made health care a major issue, driving home fears about the Coalition's spending cuts and possible plans for privatization of Medicare (the country's universal health care program), and it almost succeeded.
The entire Australian Senate was also up for election, thanks to the unique way Turnbull called the election. The Coalition and the Australian Greens had worked together to alter election rules for the Senate, hoping to cut down on the number of minor-party senators in the body (which is elected using proportional representation by state). However, nothing much changed. The Senate ended up looking largely as it did when it was dissolved, with the Coalition remaining the largest party but lacking a majority, ALP close behind, and the Greens a distant but clear third. Two minor parties, the centrist Xenophon Team and right-wing One Nation (Pauline Hanson's far right Trump-esque party) both won multiple seats, and a handful of other parties possibly each gained a single seat.
● Japan – parliament (upper house) (July 10)
Japan is holding an election for one-half of the upper chamber of its parliament (known as the House of Councillors), a body that, as in many parliamentary systems, is far weaker than the dominant lower house (in Japan, the House of Representatives). Because the lower chamber is responsible for choosing the nation's prime minister, neither Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nor his government is at risk in this election. However, the House of Councillors plays a key role in approving constitutional amendments, and since Abe is pushing a number of amendments, this election is shaping up to be more important than most.
The ruling coalition, comprised of Abe's center-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the center-right Komeito, holds a two-thirds majority in the lower house. This allows them to overrule the upper house on almost every issue—except constitutional amendments, which must also be approved by two-thirds of the upper house, before voters need to approve them in a referendum. Abe is hoping that his coalition and other minor conservative parties can reach 162 seats in the upper house, which would allow them to put new amendments on the ballot without impediment. And among Abe's proposals, by far the most controversial is a revision of Article 9, which bars Japan from creating any sort of military (though over the years, the country has developed the military-like Japan Self-Defense Force).
The opposition has sought to stop Abe by joining forces. The center-left Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party has united with two smaller parties to form an electoral pact for the seats that are not elected using proportional representation. (Japan elects part of each house through proportional representation and part through single- and multi-member districts). Specifically, in the single-member districts, the left will support a single candidate so as to minimize the chance of any spoiler effects. Since the ruling coalition will likely win a healthy number of proportional-representation seats regardless, this move is the opposition's best hope to deny Abe his supermajority.
● Mongolia – parliament (June 29)
Mongolia's parliamentary elections saw a sea change as the center-right Democratic Party (DP) coalition was swept out of power in a landslide. The opposition Mongolian People's Party (MPP) had governed Mongolia as a single-party state during the communist era, but it transitioned into a center-left social democratic platform after the country began its move toward democracy following a peaceful revolution in 1990. But after its worst-ever defeat in 2012, the MPP roared back to win 85 percent of seats in parliament to just 12 percent for the DP.
The reason for this dramatic reversal of fortunes largely boils down to changes in the economy and the country's electoral system. The DP won power in 2012 amidst an economic boom, with Mongolia's annual GDP growth of 17 percent among the world's highest. In the years since then, however, a global crash in commodity prices in part due to weakening Chinese demand has wreaked havoc with Mongolia's economy, which is extremely dependent on exports to China of natural resources like copper.
At the same time, a recent Supreme Court ruling put an end to the use of proportional representation to elect members of parliament, leaving Mongolia with only single-member districts, similar to those used in American congressional elections. Such systems can give majority parties a huge seat bonus, as was the case here, where the MPP won the popular vote 45 percent to 33 percent yet carried 85 percent of the seats. Third parties lost nearly all of their seats even though voters had soured on Mongolia's long-dominant two parties in recent years.
The MPP will now easily have enough seats to override any vetoes from Mongolia's DP-affiliated president and will even be able to amend the constitution with a two-thirds majority. That could be bad news, given the risks of democratic backsliding under single-party rule in relatively new democracies that we've seen elsewhere in the world. See the Washington Post for more extensive coverage on this election and its consequences.
● Austria – president (October 2)
In a bombshell ruling, Austria's constitutional court annulled the May 22 presidential runoff results and ordered a re-vote, which will be held on October 2. Independent Alexander Van der Bellen, backed by the center-left Greens, had barely prevailed by just 0.7 percent over far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer in May, but Hofer's party alleged that irregularities or even fraud might have cost it the election. Yet even though both the court itself and a recent academic analysis indicated that there was no evidence of any fraud that affected the outcome, a number of mail-in ballots were apparently counted earlier than permitted, which was enough to overturn the election under Austrian law.
The new vote will likely be just as fiercely contested as the first one, given what's at stake. Although Austria's presidency, as in many other parliamentary nations, is a mostly ceremonial position, Hofer once again has a chance to become Europe's first far-right head of state since Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's regime ended in the mid-1970s, and the first one elected since World War II. He has pledged to aggressively push for early elections—in which his party is poised to make major gains.
Much like the United Kingdom's recent Brexit vote (see our extensive coverage above), this election gives Austrian voters another chance to vent their frustrations with the European Union and voice their hostility to immigration by supporting Hofer. Both countries have seen longstanding electoral coalitions fracture in similar ways. Working-class voters defected from the center-left to support the right-wing populist anti-EU position, while many upper-class urbanites abandoned the center-right in favor of the more pro-EU option. Austria's rerun will thus be the first major electoral test for European unity since Brexit.
● Croatia – parliament (by September 13)
Croatia will hold early parliamentary elections sometime between mid-August and mid-September after the country's coalition government recently lost a no-confidence vote. The government has only been in office since January, following last November's election in which neither the main right nor left bloc won a majority. But the ruling coalition, an alliance between the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the smaller, centrist Most party, has been fraught with disagreements. After a financial conflict of interest scandal brought down deputy prime minister and HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko, Most voted with opposition parties to force early elections. Polling shows the Social Democratic Party-led center-left opposition coalition, which lost its majority last fall, in a prime position to regain power.
● France – presidential primary (Jan. 22 & 29, 2017)
French election watchers, set your calendars for Jan. 22 and 29 of next year. The leadership of the ruling Socialist Party has decided to organize a two-round presidential primary on those dates, a decision that comes as a surprise. That's because no incumbent president has ever had to run in a party-organized primary before, and President François Hollande had been hoping to impose himself as his camp's de facto champion. But Hollande's record unpopularity had made it unclear whether he'd even seek a second term, and now he'll have to think even harder, since running for re-election could mean risking a humiliating primary defeat.
The big question mark, as always, is whether any prominent Socialist politician will dare announce a presidential run as long as Hollande is still in the picture—or who, for that matter, would step up if Hollande were to call it quits. Among potential candidates who are associated with the party's right are Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Finance Minister Emmanuel Macron. Lille Mayor Martine Aubry and former cabinet ministers Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon are some of the Socialists have been very critical of Hollande's economic policies from the left, particularly his bid to toughen the country's labor laws, and they could also challenge him. If no candidate takes a majority in the first round, the top two candidates with the most votes will advance to the second round one week later.
But all of these potential candidates poll at very low levels in hypothetical general election trial heats, which may dissuade them from seeking the Socialist nomination altogether. As a result, it remains to be seen what if anything can prevent France's next presidential runoff from featuring a duel between a center-right candidate and the hard-right National Front's Marine Le Pen, as all polls are predicting.
● Spain – parliament (June 26)
December's parliamentary elections yielded a historic hung parliament that could not produce a viable governing majority, ultimately giving way to fresh elections last month. Little, however, changed.
Late last year, the conservative People's Party (PP) lost its majority, but its historical rival, the center-left Socialists, were far short of a majority of their own thanks to a surge in support for two upstart parties, Podemos on the left and Citizens on the center-right. But neither a Socialists-Podemos coalition nor a PP- Citizens alliance could form a majority. Various small Basque and Catalan nationalist parties held the balance of power between the two ideological coalitions, but their demands for greater autonomy or even secession were anathema to all but Podemos.
With the major parties unable to agree to any sort of coalition, Spanish voters went back to the polls in June. However, these new elections produced very little change in partisan balance. PP gained 14 seats in the 350-member Congress of Deputies, but eight of these came at the expense of Citizens while only five were taken from the Socialists, meaning the right's net gain was very small. Podemos, meanwhile, lost votes but did not lose any seats thanks to running on a joint ticket with the small far-left United Left, a move that minimized previously wasted votes. Pre-election polls indicated an all-left government was possible with Podemos as the second-largest party behind PP, but these surveys missed the mark, as Podemos finished a clear third between the Socialists and fourth-place Citizens.
Because neither the two big parties on the left nor the two big parties on the right won a majority for the second time in a row, only a serious break from traditional coalitions would allow any sort of stable government to form. One option would be for the Socialists to join a grand coalition with their bitter rival, PP, or more likely to abstain, which would allow a minority coalition between PP and Citizens. Another alternative would involve Citizens and Podemos agreeing to work together in favor of a Socialist-led coalition. But political uncertainty will likely continue, and if the parties can't reach a compromise, there's a small chance Spain might see a third election in a row—a highly unusual occurrence, but not one without precedent in parliamentary democracies worldwide.
● Mexico – state elections (June 5)
Last month, Mexico held municipal elections in 13 states, electing 12 new governors, several hundred state members of state legislatures, and nearly 1,000 mayors. The outcome was a serious blow to the ruling party, the centrist PRI, and country's president, Enrique Peña Nieto. The PRI controlled 11 of 12 governorships up for election and lost six of them, four in states it had controlled for over 80 years. Mexico's right-of-center opposition party, the PAN, was the main beneficiary of PRI's collapse. Alone or in coalition, the PAN now controls seven of the 12 state legislatures that held elections in June. Elections for the presidency and the national legislature will not, however, take place for another two years.
Meanwhile, Mexico City, converted earlier this year from a "federal district" to a more autonomous "federal entity," elected 60 members of the 100-person assembly charged with writing the city's new constitution. But the extremely low voter turnout (only 27 percent) signaled a lack of interest in the process. Besides the fact that we're now supposed to refer to Mexico City as "CDMX" (Ciudad de Mexico) instead of the "DF" (Distrito Federal), no one seems to know what the upcoming changes will mean for them.
● Peru – president (June 5)
In an upset, center-right Peruvians for Change candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former finance minister with ties to international financial institutions, defeated right-wing populist Popular Force candidate Keiko Fujimori in the presidential runoff by an incredibly slim 0.25 percent margin, the closest in Peruvian history. Fujimori had led in the first round back in April by a wide 40-21 margin, making Kuczynski's surge all the more remarkable.
Fujimori is the daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who is currently in prison for abuses of power and crimes against humanity, but who nonetheless commands immense devotion among a certain segment of the electorate after presiding over strong economic growth in the 1990s and the defeat of the Maoist rebel group Shining Path. Many voters on the left feared the younger Fujimori would bring Peru back to the days of her father's authoritarian regime, leading them to rally behind the more centrist Kuczynski after their own left-wing candidate was shut out of the runoff.
However, Fujimori's Popular Force still won 56 percent of the seats in Peru's Congress during the first round of balloting despite winning just 36 percent of the popular vote (thanks to the country's variant style of proportional representation), so Kuczynski will have to negotiate with his rivals in order to pass legislation. Both Kuczynski and Fujimori ran on a strongly pro-business, free-market economic platform, in contrast to outgoing President Ollanta Humala, though Kuczynski has a more moderate record on social issues than Fujimori. Importantly, Peru won't have a one-party government for the first time since Alberto Fujimori's rule, which many observers worried could have resulted in democratic backsliding.
The Daily Kos International Elections Digest is compiled by David Beard and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from Daniel Donner, Julia van Hoogstraten, and Daniel Nichanian, and is edited by David Nir.