November 2017

By Daniel P. Erikson and Gabriella Ippolito


October 2017 was a busy election month across the world, with more than two dozen presidential, parliamentary, and local elections held in countries as diverse as Austria, Japan, Kenya, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Venezuela, and Argentina.

In Austria, the right-leaning Austrian People’s Party won a parliamentary plurality that brought to power Sebastian Kurz, who is set to become one of the youngest world leaders at the age of 31. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerged strengthened after winning a landslide victory in a snap election. Kenya completed a do-over election after the initial presidential election in August was annulled, and President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the victor with 98 percent of the vote, while the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, denounced the run-off election a “sham.”  

Below, we delve more deeply into three elections that mattered to the futures of the Czech Republic, Venezuela, and Argentina.

The Czech Republic: Parliamentary Election

The Results:

  • Andrej Babiš, a billionaire former Finance Minister and founder of the new party ANO (“Yes” in Czech), won the Czech elections with nearly 30 percent of the vote. Babiš is now forming a minority government with a Cabinet comprised entirely of ANO party members because no other party was willing to join a coalition government. ANO ran on a platform of traditional issues such as increases in the minimum wage, state pensions and salaries for public sector workers, and anti-corruption combined with a populist anti-immigration message.

Why it matters:

  • Babiš said that his focus will be on fighting corruption and enabling the Czech Republic’s economic growth. Before winning power, Babiš was fired from his post of Finance Minister in May because of the “Stork Nest” scandal, named after a resort outside of Prague owned by Babiš family members that received a €2 million EU subsidy. The ongoing investigation could lead to difficulties for the new leader.

Next thing to watch for:

  • The election of ANO could have implications for the European Union. Babiš has said that the Czech Republic needs to become more active in the EU so as to halt illegal migration. He is against deeper EU integration and the adoption of the euro in the Czech Republic.

Venezuela’s Gubernatorial Elections

The Results:

  • Against the backdrop of increasing political and economic turmoil, the Venezuelan government gained a major reprieve when the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 18 out of 23 governorships, including in the states of Bolivar, Miranda, and Barinas. The opposition has denounced the ballot as rigged. Despite the fraud allegations, four of the five opposition governors who were elected were sworn in by the Constituent Assembly on October 24. The remaining governor-elect, Juan Pablo Guanipa of Zulia, refused to be sworn in, saying that he would not kneel before the “fraudulent Constituent Assembly;” the Governor-elect has yet to be sworn in and Delcy Rodriguez, the President of the Constituent Assembly has said there will be consequences for him.

Why it matters:

  • Venezuela is on the verge of defaulting on its bond payments, the annual inflation rate over the past year has been 817 percent, and the country is suffering from insecurity and extreme shortages of medicine. Despite these crises, President Maduro’s Socialist Party (PSUV) had a strong electoral showing and dealt another setback to the opposition, deepening internal debates in the opposition about how best to oppose the government.
  • Current President Nicolás Maduro claims that the election legitimized the government and showed the strength of the Bolivarian revolution. The opposition and international observers view it as another step in Maduro’s efforts to consolidate authoritarian rule. In a message released after the election results were announced, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States declared, “the OAS rejects all of these illegitimate acts carried out by illegitimate governments, and condemns in particular, once more, the abuses of the civil and political rights of the Venezuelan people by the regime.”

Next thing to watch for:

  • Venezuela made major bond payments of USD $842 million on October 27 and USD $1.1 billion on November 2. After the November 2payment, the Maduro administration announced that it will now seek “talks with creditors” to “renegotiate” its outstanding debts in talks on November 13. This announcement sent Venezuelan bonds plummeting on Friday November 3 and a default is now expected, which would throw the government’s stability into doubt.
  • The most recent attempt at a dialogue between the Maduro government and the Venezuelan opposition mediated by Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina and former Spanish President Jose Rodriguez Zapatero fell apart in late September after the opposition pulled out. In the meantime, the U.S. and Canada imposed further sanctions on the Maduro regime; the U.S. sanctions in particular were a popular talking point for the PSUV in the lead up to the elections.
  • The gubernatorial results raise major questions about whether the opposition will be able to coalesce around a winning strategy before the presidential elections due in the fall of 2018 or whether President Maduro will be able to maintain enough control over the system to have an unassailable advantage heading into elections. The answers to these questions could have a deep impact on a country which appears to be falling apart.

Argentina: Legislative Elections

The Results:

President Mauricio Macri’s center-right Cambiemos Party scored major victories in the country’s mid-term legislative elections and took the governorships of 13 out of 23 provinces. While Cambiemos did not win a majority of seats in either the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate, it exceeded expectations and gained seats. Cambiemos will hold 110 (they gained 21) out of 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 25 (they gained 8) out of 72 seats in the Senate. One of the most important electoral victories took place in the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s most populous province, where the Cambiemos candidates, Esteban Bullrich and Gladys Gonzalez, took two Senate seats as compared with former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who will join the Senate with one seat. Martín Lousteau, Argentina’s former ambassador to the United States, also won a seat in the Chamber, even though he finished third in the City of Buenos Aires.

Why it matters:

  • President Macri’s hand is now strengthened as he seeks to advance more sweeping reforms, including market deregulation and removal of trade barriers, labor reform, education reform, and infrastructure development.
  • Even though her Peronist coalition is weakened, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner won a Senate seat in the election. This protects her from arrest unless the Senate lifts her immunity. She has been indicted on corruption charges and the judicial proceedings will continue once she takes her seat. In addition, she is under investigation for the alleged cover up of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in which 85 people were killed. Fernandez de Kirchner says the investigations are politically motivated.

Next thing to watch for:

  • The Macri administration will face the challenge of pushing through its reform agenda while taming the country’s 17.6 percent inflation rate. Success in these areas will either strengthen or diminish President Macri’s chances of being reelected in 2019.