Big changes possible as half the world goes to 2019 polls – WEF

CAPE TOWN — By the end of this year we could be facing a very different world as 62 diverse countries hold elections, with India and the European Union (EU), the two most populous and influential. That’s half of the globe if we exclude China (off the list). Uncertainty is the only sure bet as social scientists, like punters at the horse races anxiously hold their breaths to see if their theories get proven to make them shine, or, in equal random improbability, sink their opinions into oblivion. The best futurists are often historians with a keen eye for patterns – but even then, unpredictable curved balls can throw them off. What this piece does is provide a sense of the potential impact 1.85bn residents of democracies among the UN-estimated 7.7bn world population will have on our future. The current trend is conservative, inward-looking and selfish, but a move towards a global collective that rises to meet challenges of free and fair trade or climate change is a possibility. Hope springs, no more so than in South Africa where recent stoking of historic racial tension is a sure vote-catcher that can easily go as viral as AIDS – with equally tragic consequences. – Chris Bateman

This article is part of the World Economic Forum’s Geostrategy platform

In 2019, the process of democracy will impact 3.28bn people, with 1.34bn or 40% of the sample from India alone.

Voters from across diverse geographies, believers in varied ideologies and belonging to several shades of inequality, will oversee and be impacted by political change.

From Afghanistan and Australia to Thailand and Uruguay, these 62 countries will elect new leaders, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Howsoever flawed or imperfect some of these democracies, 2019 is the year when the voting population of two-fifths of the world — more than half of it, if we exclude China — will elect new leaders.

This will impact several issues, from foreign affairs and defence deals, to domestic coalition complexities and local policymaking. This will also bring a huge element of uncertainty to the world.

Most watched votes

While we will know these answers only later this year, the most impactful expressions of these choices will be in India that goes in for general elections in April and the European Union to elect the European Parliament in May.

The latter will give more of a sense of direction of what the Western world is thinking rather than executing it. But both will be the world’s most-watched elections.

Together, they impact 1.85bn people, whose aspirations will shape the textures of international relations and global economics in 2019.

But aside from these two, there will be several large elections — Thailand and Nigeria, impacting 255m people, in February; Indonesia and Afghanistan (299m) in April; the Philippines and South Africa (162m) in May; Japan (127m) in July, Canada and Argentina (81m) in October; Poland and Australia (63m) in November; Romania (19m) in December.

While those who track changing world orders will need to examine these 15 elections very closely, you cannot leave out smaller countries — Finland (5.5m) in April; Slovakia (5.4m) in May; the Netherlands, Belgium and Lithuania (31.4m) in May; Latvia (1.9m) in June; Bolivia, Haiti and Greece (32.9m) in October; Croatia and Tunisia (15.7m) in December.

On the lowest side of the spectrum, the smallest elections will be held in Cocos (Keeling) Islands (population: 596) for their Shire Council; a referendum for the 3,398 people in the Falkland Islands; Montserrat (population: 4,900); and Tuvalu (11,192), Nauru (13,649), and Gibraltar (34,571) in March, July and December respectively.

As political parties fight for their mandates and tweak their manifestos to express their nations’ economic direction, expect huge uncertainties in policy stability and, as a result, sharp volatility in global markets. From oil and currencies to debt and stocks, 2019 will provide rich fodder for global speculators.

In other words, these 62 elections in 2019 will impact geopolitical and geo-economic indicators from all six continents — no sample could be as diverse or as disparate as this.

It will be a political economy laboratory whose outcomes will spill beyond these nations’ boundaries. This year will be the year when social scientists from across the world will be able to test their hypotheses on predicting new world orders.

One country at a time, the choices before these 62 nations in 2019 will be layered. Will the world redefine and shift to a truly liberal order, one that has not been hijacked by the elite, but carries within it greater inclusion — economic, social and cultural? Will it change towards becoming more conservative, inward-looking, a me-first or me-only, rather than a global collective meeting global challenges of free and fair trade or climate change together?

Or will it be status-quo? The answers will trickle in by mid-2019 — and consolidate by the end of the year.