● New Zealand – parliament (November)
In the wake of longtime Prime Minister John Key's surprise resignation in December, new Prime Minister Bill English will lead the center-right National Party into regularly scheduled elections this fall, hoping to continue his party's success at the polls. Key and the National Party had governed since 2008, winning re-election in 2011 and 2014, and English is in good position to earn a fourth straight victory.
The National Party has been polling just under 50 percent very consistently since the 2014 election (where they received 47 percent), and unless something significant changes, the only question in November is whether it will wind up with a majority government or a minority government (in 2014 they fell one seat short of a majority). The National Party's main opposition is the center-left Labour Party, which is currently polling in the upper 20s. There are two other major parties expected to receive significant support, the left-wing Green Party and right-wing populist New Zealand First party.
● East Timor – president (March) and legislature (July)
The small Southeast Asian country of East Timor will elect its national government in 2017 after years of political instability following independence from Indonesia in 2002 and a United Nations peacekeeping operation that lasted from 2006 to 2012. Since 2015, the left-wing nationalist FRETILIN party has formed a national unity government with its main opponent, the center-left National Congress (CNRT), while independent President Taur Matan Ruak was elected with the support of CNRT in 2012. The election for president (who has limited powers but can veto legislation) uses a runoff if no candidate secures a majority, while legislative elections use proportional representation, meaning winners will likely need to secure coalition partners to govern.
● Hong Kong – chief executive (March)
Hong Kong operates under a quasi-democratic system with some autonomy from the Communist Party government in mainland China, but Beijing has been trying to tighten its grip over the political system in the city-state. Voters elected staunch pro-democracy advocates to the legislature in 2016, but there's never been any question that forces loyal to Beijing would retain their majority because almost half the body's seats are selected by industry trade groups.
The situation at the top is little different. Despite pro-democracy advocates' push to create a directly elected chief executive during the 2014 "Umbrella Movement" mass protests, a committee of roughly 1,200 members comprising various civic organizations and individuals still gets to choose the city's leader, and this very select constituency leans heavily toward Beijing.
Current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying earned the wrath of reformers when he tried to oust several pro-democracy legislators last year, but he's become unpopular even outside of the pro-democracy camp, and late last year he said he would not run for a second term. While the reformist faction holds only about a quarter of the 1,200 seats on the selection committee and has little hope of electing its preferred candidate, it could hope to play the role of kingmaker, since pro-Beijing forces have not consolidated around a single candidate.
● Mongolia – president (June)
East Asia's only landlocked nation heads to the polls to elect its next president this summer, when incumbent President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj is barred from seeking a third term. After the tumbling price of natural resources (due to weak Chinese demand) brought sky-high economic growth to a crawl, the opposition center-left Mongolian People's Party ousted Elbegdorj's center-right Democratic Party to win veto-proof control of the legislature in 2016. Now the opposition could be well-positioned to capture the presidency and regain complete control over Mongolia's government.
● Papua New Guinea – parliament (June & July)
Prime Minister Peter O'Neill will be seeking a second five-year term in power at the head of the People's National Congress party. Corruption is a major issue, and opposition leaders tried to depose O'Neill after deadly anti-corruption protests in 2016, but he easily survived a no-confidence vote. Papua New Guinea's unicameral parliament uses instant-runoff voting in single-member districts, meaning the victor will likely need to assemble a coalition of different parties to govern. The newly elected government will also have to oversee a pending 2019 independence referendum in the autonomous island region of Bougainville, which was the site of a long and bloody civil war in the 1990s.
● South Korea – president (by December)
South Korea was roiled by its greatest political crisis since the return of democracy in the 1980s when President Park Geun-hye became consumed in a major corruption and influence-peddling scandal that sparked ongoing mass protests and left her with an approval rating in the single digits. The legislature voted to impeach Park in December and stripped her of her powers pending trial, while a court will soon decide whether to remove Park from office sometime in the first half of the year. If it does, there would be a new election within 60 days. Even if Park is not removed, South Korea's constitution already barred her from seeking a second five-year term in December's regularly scheduled election.
Center-left Minjoo Party opposition leader Moon Jae-in, who narrowly lost the 2012 election to Park, is a leading contender in the upcoming presidential election. Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is considering running, but Park's disastrous tenure has tainted those associated with her conservative Saenuri Party, which Ban is a member of. However, the nascent centrist People's Party could complicate Minjoo's chances if it runs its own candidate: A divided opposition could hand the election to the reeling Saenuri, since all it takes is a plurality to win.
Middle East/North Africa
● Iran – president (May)
Iran may not be what Westerners would consider a "free" country, but nevertheless, its past two presidential elections have had enormous reverberations. The (highly disputed) re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 led to the failed Green Movement revolution, while the 2013 election of Hassan Rouhani created room for the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. However, the country's upcoming election is not likely spark comparably dramatic change, primarily because Rouhani is a strong favorite for re-election to a second term.
Elections in Iran are generally contested between a loose coalition of moderate reformists and a coalition of so-called "principlist" conservatives. All candidates are vetted by the state's Guardian Council, which can reject candidates it deems unacceptable, usually for political views considered too reformist. Still, moderate reformist candidates have typically won the presidency since these divides developed in the 1990s, with Ahmadinejad's election the one major exception.
With Rouhani unlikely to face serious opposition within the moderate ranks and also unlikely to be rejected by the Guardian Council, only an equally unlikely loss to a more conservative challenger (or electoral malfeasance) would prevent his re-election. No Iranian president has ever failed to win a second term.
● Lebanon – parliament (June)
Lebanon will hold its first parliamentary elections in eight years, four years later than they were supposed to take place, after lawmakers repeatedly postponed them due to security concerns and political paralysis. Located in a strategic geographic position between key regional powers, Lebanon is extremely divided among sectarian political groups. Sunni and Shiite Muslims make up roughly one-quarter of the population each, while Christian groups make up roughly 40 percent.
The country's unique constitutional system enshrines a level of balance between sects under a variant of the power-sharing doctrine of consociationalism called confessionalism. This means that certain religious groups are formally entitled to share power, such as cabinet positions. Traditionally, a Maronite Christian serves in the mostly ceremonial role of president, a Sunni Muslim functions as prime minister, and a Shiite Muslim becomes parliament speaker. Coupled with a proportionally elected parliament, this system has helped ensure that various minorities can peacefully obtain power, but it also contributed greatly to political deadlock after Lebanon's long civil war ended in 1990.
Lebanese politics has frequently turned into a proxy battle between regional players. Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Western nations often support political groups that take a tough stance against Syria, while Iran and Syria's Shiite-led governments back parties who oppose the West, such as Hezbollah, which Israel and many foreign governments (as well as the Arab League) deem to be a terrorist group. The ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria also looms large over Lebanese civic life. Over 1 million refugees have flooded the small nation since 2011, which previously was home to just 4 million people. The poor state of public services and high levels of corruption have frustrated Lebanese citizens even beyond the never-ending sectarian divisions.
After two years without a president, Lebanon's parliament finally elected ex-Prime Minister Michel Aoun in 2016. Aoun is associated with the pro-Syria and pro-Iran March 8 Alliance, which Hezbollah supports, while current Prime Minister Saad Hariri hails from the more anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance. Parliament is sharply divided between the two blocs heading into the 2017 elections, but the pro-Syrian bloc appeared to grow more powerful in 2016 with Aoun's election.
● Turkey – referendum (April)
Turkey's longtime authoritarian leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has sought for some time to amend the Turkish constitution to weaken parliament and strengthen the presidency. Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party has now succeeded by working with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party to approve a series of constitutional amendments in parliament. Once finalized, the amendments will then go before the electorate in a referendum, most likely in April of this year.
There are 18 amendments in total (some are still awaiting votes in parliament but are expected to be approved). Some amendments are relatively innocuous, such as increasing parliament from 550 members to 600 and aligning presidential and parliamentary election schedules. Far more troublesome are amendments that abolish the position of prime minister and the cabinet and instead allow the president to appoint and fire ministers at will. The president would also be able to call future referendums at his pleasure.
Polling on the referendum has been unclear, with both sides having reasons for optimism. Last year's failed coup (which has led to an extraordinary crackdown on democracy by Erdoğan), terror attacks, fighting in Syria, and economic weakness have shaken much of the Turkish public, but it remains unclear whether they will embrace Erdoğan's ideas or take out their frustration on him. If the referendum succeeds, the next presidential election would take place 2019 and allow Erdoğan to serve two more five-year terms, meaning he could end up leading the country until 2029 and consolidate his authoritarian grip on power.
● Albania – parliament (June)
Prime Minister Edi Rama's center-left Socialists are defending the coalition majority they gained in 2013 by ousting the conservative Democratic Party-led alliance. The opposition will likely focus on corruption and crime, while the Socialists will tout Albania's increased economic growth rate since they took office. However, the center-left Socialist Movement for Integration (known locally as LSI) could once again play kingmaker. While LSI currently supports the Socialists, they backed a Democratic-led coalition in 2009. All three parties are generally pro-European in their outlook, as Albania applied for European Union membership in 2009, but the process is slow-moving and requires major reforms.
● Bulgaria – parliament (likely March)
Bulgaria will likely hold early elections in March after the center-right GERB party of outgoing Prime Minister Boyko Borisov badly lost last November's election for the mostly ceremonial presidency to a center-left Socialist Party candidate—who notably favored closer ties with Russia even though Bulgaria is a European Union and NATO member. The Socialists and their coalition allies, including the centrist liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms party that advocates for Bulgaria's sizable Turkish minority, could be poised to return to power following their 2014 defeat.
● Czech Republic – parliament (October)
A mainstay of post-communist Czech politics, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka's center-left Social Democrats (CSSD) have governed in an uneasy coalition with the centrist populist party ANO since 2013. ANO burst onto the political scene ahead of the last election with a hodgepodge of policies that took a strong stance against corruption and the political establishment while maintaining a generally pro-business outlook. However, it's faced accusations of merely being a vehicle to personal power for its leader, popular billionaire Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, who is the nation's second-richest man and has even drawn comparisons to Donald Trump.
According to the latest polls, the country could soon find Babiš leading a new, more right-leaning government following this year's elections. CSSD already suffered an embarrassing performance in 2016 regional elections, and some 2017 surveys indicate they could fall below even the 20 percent they won in 2013, while ANO looks poised to become the largest party with over a quarter of the vote. Proportional representation means that either party would likely have to find coalition partners to govern, but that could be much easier for ANO than CSSD, since aside from the Communist Party, most of the other parties likely to win seats in parliament are right-of-center.
Four months from the first round of general voting in the French presidential election, the contest seems wide open after expectations were upended in the space of a few weeks late last year.
First, incumbent president Francois Holland announced in December that he wouldn't seek another term, leaving the ruling center-left Socialist Party to hold an open presidential primary in late January.
Second, two notable French politicians lost the presidential primary for The Republicans, the mainstream center-right party. Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, was eliminated in the first round. Former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, who had dominated polling in The Republicans primary throughout the year, ended up getting handily defeated by another former prime minister, François Fillon.
Third and finally, a political newcomer, Emmanuel Macron, has seen his numbers soar since launching an independent bid.
France's presidential election is a two-round system; the top two vote-getters in the April 23 general election move to a runoff on May 7. The players are many. On the far right, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, whose party has drawn wide criticism for its extreme Islamophobic and anti-immigrant stances and past history of thinly veiled fascism, has improved her electoral standing in recent years. The prospect that she might earn one of the top two spots—thereby eliminating either the center-left or the center-right from the runoff—has dominated campaign coverage.
Meanwhile, on the center-right, Fillon is the leading candidate. A self-described "Thatcherite," he's promised a dramatic reduction in France's public sector and favors closer ties with Vladimir Putin's Russia. He also maintains strongly conservative positions on cultural issues.
The left, though, is badly disorganized. Later this month, the ruling Socialist Party will hold primaries to decide on a standard-bearer. Seven candidates are running. Those attracting the most attention are Manuel Valls, who served as prime minister until he resigned to launch his presidential bid; former cabinet ministers Benoit Hamon and Arnaud Montebourg; and former Minister Vincent Peillon, who enjoys the strong support of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. The left's primary, just like the right's and the general election, will be fought in two rounds. If no candidate reaches 50 percent of the vote on Jan. 22, the top two will face off in a runoff on Jan. 29.
Valls stems from the Socialist Party's right wing, while Montebourg and Hamon represent its left wing. In 2014, Hamon and Montebourg were dismissed from the cabinet after they publicly criticized the economic policies of Hollande and Valls as too accepting of austerity measures.
With Valls expected to take one of the top two spots by rallying voters who have remained supportive of Hollande's leadership, polls show Montebourg and Hamon in a tight race for the second spot. That alone is a surprise since Montebourg, who has long enjoyed a much higher profile than Hamon, had looked likely to be the main alternative to Valls. Polls have also shown that whoever faces Valls would pick up much of his rivals' support, making for a very tight runoff. However, French primaries have a very short history, and turnout patterns that are particularly hard to predict—the sort of circumstances in which polls can struggle.
Ordinarily, the Socialists' nomination would be well worth having, but this is no ordinary election. The mainstream right is nearly unified around Fillon, while Le Pen has reason to hope she'll score her party's highest result yet in a presidential election. Meanwhile, the left is highly divided. Besides two far-left candidates and a Green Party candidate, the Socialist Party's nominee will be squeezed on both sides. On its left is the Left Front's Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who took 11 percent in the 2012 presidential election; on its right is Macron, a former banker who briefly served as Hollande's economy minister before breaking with the government to kick off his presidential bid.
With this extreme fracturing, it's hard to see how any of these left-of-center candidates could slip into the top two in April's general election absent (a) unexpected stumbles by Le Pen or Fillon, and/or (b) strategic voting by left-of-center voters resulting in significant consolidation of the left-leaning vote.
Recent events, however, have suggested both of these things could happen. On the one hand, Fillon, who won the right's nomination without a lot of scrutiny after a last-minute surge, has seen his popularity suffer amidst increasing coverage of his promise to "shock" the French economy. On the other hand, Macron's popularity has grown, and his standing in the polls has improved at the expense of the Socialist Party's, enough so that pollsters have now found him inching close to a top-two position.
However, all this could change later this month if the winner of the Socialist Party candidate benefits from new exposure, stabilizes the party's standing, and gets his party's traditional voters to return. The Left Front's Mélenchon, who has been preparing for this campaign for years, also stands to do well. He will benefit from many left-wing voters' active discontent with the labor reforms implemented under the joint leadership of Hollande, Valls, and Macron.
So the dilemma remains: Given all the ideological rifts that have only grown deeper over the past give years, how can the left get sufficiently organized to avoid being reduced to the role of mere arbiter between Fillon and Le Pen's candidacies in the runoff—if that? The most recent poll found Le Pen trailing both Fillon and Macron by about 30 points in hypothetical second-round matchups; as conservative as Fillon is, left-leaning voters will almost certainly prefer him to the odious Le Pen, so the left might wind up getting taken for granted.
Once the presidential election is settled, French voters will head to the polls twice more in June in elections that will decide control of the National Assembly, the lower chamber in the country's legislature. While the party that wins the presidential election would typically head into legislative elections as the heavy favorite, it is unclear what would follow a Macron victory since Macron only recently formed his own political apparatus.
In December, we covered the unofficial start of Germany's 2017 federal election when Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted her party's nomination to run for a fourth term. Before that, though, Germany has three state elections in May where Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is likely to suffer additional losses. At the same time, Alternative for Germany (AfD), a new far-right, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim party, is on track to enter additional state parliaments.
In both Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, a coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Greens—both on the center-left—currently governs. The two parties are the favorite to win re-election in both states, though they might wind up needing a third partner to retain power.
Saarland, on the other hand, is run by a grand coalition of both major parties (CDU and SPD, led by CDU). With the smaller center-right neoliberal FDP unlikely to make it into the Saarland parliament and no other coalition partners, CDU will have to hope for another CDU-led grand coalition. The SPD, on the other hand, may be able to put together a coalition with the Greens and Die Linke (a far-left party whose name translates as, well, "the Left"). However, the SPD had an opportunity to do just that in 2012 after coming in second to the CDU but chose to enter into a grand coalition instead.
● Liechtenstein – parliament (February)
The wealthy Alpine microstate of Liechtenstein, which has a population of just 37,000, has traditionally seen two parties dominate its national political landscape: the center-right Patriotic Union and the right-wing Progressive Citizens' Party. The former favors classical liberalism and Christian democracy, while the latter leans more toward national conservatism. Both parties have frequently governed in coalition together, with the Patriotic Union currently leading a two-party government, while the opposition center-left Free List has long been the country's very minor third wheel, never winning more than three out of 25 seats in parliament.
However, the 2013 elections saw a major shakeup with the anti-establishment The Independents debuting at 15 percent of the vote, though it remains to be seen if they will retain their support (parties need to take at least 8 percent of the vote nationwide in order to win any seats in parliament). Like its much larger neighbor Switzerland, Liechtenstein frequently engages in direct democracy to make policy via initiatives and referendums.
● Norway – parliament (September)
Prime Minister Erna Solberg's center-right Conservative Party, which governs in coalition with the right-wing populist Progress Party and has the support of two other small right-leaning parties, will be seeking a second term in 2017. Their main opposition consists of an alliance led by the center-left Labour Party, which held power before 2013. Solberg's government marks the first time that Progress has ever participated in government, and although they aren't nearly as extreme as other far-right parties like France's National Front, Progress is still part of a continent-wide rise of right-wing populism largely driven by a backlash to immigration and globalization.
Polling has shown the left-leaning opposition improving its standing since 2013, with Labour by far the most popular party at over 35 percent of the vote. Unlike the main center-left parties in many Western European countries, which have hemorrhaged support to both left-wing alternatives and right-wing populists, Labour shows no signs of being displaced as Norway's longtime largest party. However, a center-left victory is far from guaranteed, particularly because some of Labour's gains could come at the expense of its allies like the left-wing Socialist Left, who could fall below the 4 percent proportional representation threshold and win almost no seats.
● Spain: Catalonia – independence referendum (September)
Located in Spain's northeastern corner, Catalonia is home to Barcelona (and one-sixth of the country's population), is one of its richest regions, and has a unique history with its own separate language. These and other factors have spurred many Catalans to support the region's secession from a country that they view as hostile to their rights and cultural identity. An ideologically diverse pro-independence coalition won power in regional elections two years ago, and Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is now pledging to hold what he calls a "binding" independence referendum later this year.
This move sets the region on a collision course with the national government in Madrid, where conservative People's Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's minority government rejects Catalonia's authority to even call such a referendum without parliament's consent, and the country's highest court seems likely to agree. While Catalan voters are sharply divided over the independence question, Rajoy and the center-right anti-Catalan Citizens party that supports him are deeply unpopular in Catalonia, and the region's brewing political crisis shows no signs of dissipating.
● United Kingdom: Northern Ireland – regional parliament (March)
Due to Northern Ireland's troubled history, it has a unique form of devolved government in which the largest unionist (Protestant and pro-UK) party and largest nationalist (Catholic and pro-independence) party in parliament are required to work jointly to govern it. This system is an acknowledgement that Northern Ireland cannot be governed unilaterally by either side as long as the bitter unionist/nationalist divide remains. Since 2007, the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on the unionist side and left-wing Sinn Féin on the nationalist side have together been in charge.
But that forced partnership has now come to an end as Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein has resigned, which will almost certainly force new elections. McGuinness and Sinn Féin have withdrawn from the government in protest over First Minister Arlene Foster's refusal to resign over a scandal involving a program called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). Foster oversaw the creation of the RHI in 2012 as enterprise minister, but a flaw in the program, which was designed to encourage energy savings, allowed for claimants to earn money by burning more fuel, costing Northern Ireland nearly 500 million pounds.
Assuming Sinn Féin holds fast, elections would be held within eight weeks of parliament being dissolved. The elections themselves are unlikely to change the current political situation, unless the center-right Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) (the other major Unionist party) were to overtake the DUP as the largest unionist party, or the center-left Social Democratic and Labour Party were to overtake Sinn Féin as the largest nationalist party. If the DUP remains the largest unionist party, it will face a choice between forcing out Foster or allowing the breakdown of the Northern Ireland executive system that has succeeded for the past ten years.
There is precedent for such a collapse. In 2002, the NI executive and assembly was suspended for five years after the UUP refused to cooperate with Sinn Féin. That crisis wasn't resolved until 2007's St. Andrews Agreement restored working relations between the parties.
● The Gambia – legislature (April)
The tiny West African nation of The Gambia should be no one's idea of a democracy, with President Yahya Jammeh effectively ruling as an oppressive dictator since coming to power in a 1994 military coup. However, in an astounding development last December, Jammeh was unable to avoid losing re-election to pro-democracy challenger Adama Barrow, though he's since refused to recognize the result and acted to nullify it.
Crucially, the army chief supports Jammeh, but influential countries in the region such as Nigeria and Ghana are pressuring him to step down when his term ends on Jan. 19. The Economic Community of West African States, an intergovernmental organization, also says it's maintaining the option of using military force to secure Jammeh's compliance. If the president is indeed removed from power, April's legislative elections might actually see real political change instead of merely legitimizing Jammeh's autocratic regime.
● Kenya – president and legislature (August)
Kenya faces another contentious election in 2017 as voters will go to the polls to elect offices at all levels of government. President Uhuru Kenyatta will be seeking a second five-year term at the head of the conservative Jubilee coalition, facing a probable rematch against former Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the center-left opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy. Jubilee will also be defending their control over both houses of the legislature. A runoff will be held if neither presidential candidate secures a majority in the first round and at least 25 percent in half of the country's 47 counties.
Observers fear the possibility of a repeat of the 2007 election, when a disputed result led to a violent political crisis that saw the deaths of roughly 1,200 people. Opposition forces have cried foul over a new electoral law pertaining to ballot counting due to concerns of possible election-rigging by the government, while voters themselves are dissatisfied with the lack of democracy in how both major parties operate internally. It remains to be seen whether elections in this deeply ethnically divided country will proceed in a peaceful and satisfactorily democratic manner.
● Liberia – president and legislature (October)
Incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the first woman to become an elected head of state in Africa, is barred from running for a third six-year term. Her Unity Party will likely nominate Vice President Joseph Boakai, while other major candidates include George Weah, a senator from the Congress for Democratic Change party and former soccer superstar. Another potential candidate is National Patriotic Party's Jewel Howard Taylor, another senator who is the ex-wife of former President Charles Taylor, a despot in prison for crimes against humanity during the wars that marked his tenure.
While Boakai possesses many advantages as the ruling party's candidate, there are also signs that voters have grown weary after 12 years and are looking for a change. There will be a runoff if no candidate secures a majority in the first round. Liberians will also elect the lower house of the legislature using first-past-the-post, single-member districts. This election will hopefully mark the first peaceful transition of power between presidents since the Second Liberian Civil War ended in 2003 and a provisional government was established before Sirleaf took power in 2006.
● Senegal – legislature (June)
Senegal, a West African nation of roughly 14 million people, will hold its first national elections since passing a polarizing set of constitutional reforms in a referendum last year. Although the referendum put new constraints on presidential power, some opposition forces saw it as a way for President Macky Sall to further divide organized opposition to his administration. Those changes made it easier for independent candidates to win seats in the unicameral National Assembly, where Sall's big-tent coalition holds a lopsided majority.
Nonetheless, Senegalese democracy has become relatively consolidated, particularly compared to many of its regional neighbors. Sall even tried, unsuccessfully, to shorten the length of his own current term from seven to five years.
Canada is on track to host just one provincial election in 2017: In British Columbia, the right-leaning Liberal Party, under the leadership of Premier Christy Clark, will vie for a fifth consecutive term in power. The most recent opinion polling suggests that the center-left New Democrats, with untested leader John Horgan at the helm, may be competitive. However, it's important to note that opinion polling badly underestimated the Liberal Party's strength the last time around. The vote is tentatively scheduled to be held on May 9.
Elsewhere, the major action in Canadian electoral politics will be found in several key party leadership races. On May 27, federal Conservative Party members will vote to select a new leader in the wake of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's defeat (and subsequent resignation from Parliament) in the 2015 election. Yes, that means an astounding 586 days will have passed between Harper's loss and the Tories finally choosing a new chief, and as befits this rudderless state of affairs, the current field is 13 candidates deep and rather muddled.
However, two names in particular have garnered an outsized share of attention. The first belongs to Kellie Leitch, a member of Parliament from Ontario who breathlessly celebrated Donald Trump's victory as an "exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well." Unsurprisingly, she's also advocated for aggressively screening prospective immigrants to the country to make sure they embrace "Canadian values."
The second prominent contender, Kevin O'Leary, is a wealthy investor best known for his starring roles on CBC Television's Dragons' Den and its (inferior) U.S. counterpart, Shark Tank. Incredibly, O'Leary may in some ways be even Trumpier than Leitch, given his penchant for self-aggrandizing bluster and verbal bullying. O'Leary has yet to actually enter the race, but he's promised that a formal decision will be coming soon. The success (or hopefully lack thereof) of these two candidates will be the first true test of Canada's immunity to the Trump virus.
Meanwhile, the left-leaning New Democratic Party, after seeing its support crumble in the 2015 federal elections, will also be voting for a new leader. Last spring, its members had the opportunity to continue under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair but instead voted to hold a leadership contest. Peter Julian, a member of Parliament from British Columbia, is the only candidate to formally enter the race for this challenging job, but there's still plenty of time for additional names to enter the fray before voting begins in September.
A little further down the ballot, Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party will select a new leader on March 18. The center-right PCs held power in Alberta for a remarkable 44 consecutive years before being defeated in a landslide by Rachel Notley's left-leaning New Democratic Party in 2015. That loss came in part thanks to the upstart right-wing Wildrose Party, which cannibalized votes from the PCs' right flank.
The candidate to watch in this particular contest is Jason Kenney, a veteran federal lawmaker and former cabinet minister in Stephen Harper's Conservative government. Kenney, known as a staunch fiscal and social conservative, is running on a platform of merging the PCs and his ideological brethren in the Wildrose Party under one banner. If Alberta's right-wing forces finally do reunite as Kenney desires, Rachel Notley's odds of winning a second term in 2019 will almost certainly get a lot tougher.
Even further down the ballot, several major Canadian cities will also hold mayoral elections this year, including Edmonton and Calgary on October 16, and Montreal and Quebec City on November 5.
● The Bahamas – parliament (May)
The small island nation of The Bahamas, off the southeast coast of Florida, uses the Westminster system of a parliament that features single-member districts where all it takes is a plurality to win each seat. That consequently encourages a two-party system, and Prime Minister Perry Christie's left-of-center Progressive Liberal Party and the opposition conservative Free National Movement have dominated the archipelago's politics for decades. Christie's party will be defending its 30-to-eight majority as the opposition seeks to regain power after being swept out of office in the 2012 elections.
● Honduras – president and legislature (November)
President Juan Orlando Hernández's conservative National Party will attempt to maintain its hold on power in 2017, with Hernández controversially pledging to run for a second term after the country's highest court struck down a provision that barred a president from seeking re-election. Opposition parties are crying foul, particularly in light of how leftist former President Manuel Zelaya's attempts to extend his stay in office were met with a military coup that removed him from power in 2009.
Opposing Hernández is the more centrist Liberal Party, which had long been Honduras' other major party, and the newer left-wing Libre, formed by Zelaya's supporters, along with a handful of minor parties. These divisions could complicate efforts to defeat the National Party, since unlike in most Latin American democracies, it only takes a plurality of the vote to become president. Hernández benefitted enormously from the split field in 2013, when he prevailed by just 37 percent to 29 percent against Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro.
● Argentina – legislature (October)
In 2015, Argentina elected Mauricio Macri to the presidency, ending 12 years or rule by the Kirchner family, which had won the past three presidential elections (one by Néstor and two by Cristina, his wife). This year, Macri will face a midterm election for Argentina's legislature, where half of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house) and one-third of the Senate will be up for election.
The Kirchners as a political force are the heirs of Peronism, while Macri rose to power within anti-Peronist parties. To understand Argentinian politics, you need to know that elections generally don't take place just along a traditional left/right divide but between Peronist and anti-Peronist electoral alliances. Peronism, named for former President Juan Domingo Perón, is seen as mostly left-wing, but it also has a strong authoritarian streak and tends toward a cult of personality that surrounds whomever is leading the party. It generally has strong support within the Argentine working classes and has taken many economically progressive actions.
Macri has steered Argentina away from Peronism and towards more conventional center-right economic policies. This includes resolving a longstanding dispute with American creditors and removing currency controls to allow the Argentinian peso to devalue (and thus make the economy more internationally competitive), as well as anti-worker policies that favor businesses. Macri's coalition, known as Cambiemos (which translates as "Let's Change"), is the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies but is much smaller in the Senate, where the Kirchner's Front for Victory party holds a majority.
● Chile – president and legislature (November)
Center-left Socialist President Michelle Bachelet was swept back into office in a 2013 landslide on the promises of tackling desperately needed political reforms and sky-high inequality. However, her administration has become enormously unpopular thanks to corruption scandals and stagnant economic growth driven in part by the global collapse in commodities prices since 2014 that has hurt many of South America's export-dependent economies. The constitution bars Bachelet from seeking another consecutive term in 2017, but other candidates associated with her left-leaning governing coalition will likely struggle to distance themselves from Bachelet's unpopular tenure. The left-of-center New Majority coalition will also be defending its majorities in Congress.
Chile's right-of-center opposition parties saw major gains in local elections last year, which could foreshadow their success in national elections late in 2017. Conservative ex-President Sebastián Piñera, who was Bachelet's immediate predecessor, could seek to return to office at the head of the center-right Chile Vamos coalition, but many other candidates from Chile's fragmented party system could also run. If no candidate wins an outright majority, there would be a runoff between the top two. Should the right prevail, Chile would mark another major ebb for the socialist "Pink Tide" that washed over South America in the last decade. Since then, leftists have lost the presidency in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and the legislature in Venezuela in just the last two years.
● Ecuador – president and legislature (February)
President Rafael Correa's left-wing populist PAIS Alliance has dominated Ecuadorian politics for the last decade, but after a public backlash, the president is now abiding by term limits after previously flirting with constitutional changes that would have allowed him to run again. Correa's party nominated his former vice president, Lenin Moreno, while CREO party candidate Guillermo Lasso, who lost in a landslide to Correa in 2013, is the leading conservative opposition candidate. But if no one secures at least 40 percent in the first round and a 10 percent lead over his or her nearest opponent, then the election proceeds to a runoff.
Ecuador has been a key part of South America's "Pink Tide," and Correa had allied himself with other left-wing populists such as the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Like many of these leaders, Correa has faced accusations of amassing power for personal benefit and stifling independent institutions even while boosting social spending to alleviate poverty. As with its neighbors, the post-2014 collapse in global commodities prices significantly hurt export-dependent Ecuador's economy, leading to unpopular fiscal policies to deal with the resulting slowdown. Nonetheless, many polls indicate Moreno is a decisive favorite, and he might even avoid a second round, but many Latin American countries like Ecuador are notoriously difficult to survey.
● Europe: Who runs each of Europe's democracies, the left or the right? Daily Kos Elections has mapped out the answers to this surprisingly tricky question. Parties holding social democratic, socialist, progressive, or social liberal ideals are classified as left-of-center, and those holding traditional conservative, neoliberal, or anti-immigrant right-wing populist principles are placed on the right, while truly centrist parties fall, well, in the center. Many of these countries have coalitions between parties that differ ideologically, but overall, Europe's democratic governments currently tend to lean more toward the right.
● Iceland: Two and a half months after it conducted parliamentary elections, Iceland finally has a new center-right governing coalition that excludes the radical Pirate Party after the conservative Independence Party won the support of the new center-right Reform Party and the centrist Bright Future. One major sticking point in forming a coalition was the issue of European Union membership, which Independence vociferously opposes but its new partners support. Parliament could vote to put the issue of resuming negotiations in Iceland's stalled membership bid to a public referendum, but with voters vehemently against joining, there's no guarantee a referendum would even occur, let alone pass. With just a one-seat majority, the Independence-led coalition could prove short-lived.
● Polling: Electograph, a website tracking national election polls in Europe, has launched a new page that graphically tracks the latest national polls from each pollster across a wide range of European countries. This feature makes it easy to check out the most recent standing of major parties or presidential candidates, while the site also contains extensive archives of previous polls by country.
● Scotland: Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party has ruled out a Scottish independence referendum in 2017. The SNP is widely expected to eventually push for another referendum on independence but will likely wait until the fallout from Brexit becomes clear.