2018 is drawing to a close – another year dominated by political upheaval, natural disasters and Brexit. The year to come promises to be a year of politics in an age of disruption, with Britain’s planned withdrawal from the European Union, elections in the world’s most populous democracy, and further advances in technology.
In the United States, President Trump looks set to have a harder time in office, now having to face a Democrat majority in the House of Representatives which will almost certainly hold up attempts at certain legislation. We are already seeing them exert confidence in challenging the Trump administration with the government shutdown, which we can probably expect to go on for at least a few more weeks.
There are certainly signs that the continued period of economic growth in the US might be coming to a halt in the near future. Uncertainty on the markets regarding Trump’s policies and approach to governance, particularly his open criticism of the Federal Reserve, is leading to investors putting their money elsewhere and this could help cause a slowdown in the economy, alongside Trump’s continuing trade war with China.
The Trump White House will continue to feel the pressure next year as numerous investigations build to a climax, such as Muller’s investigation into Russian influence in the US election. With more evidence piling up and the Republican establishment beginning to turn on him, especially after his sudden plans to withdraw troops from Syria, could this be the year that the GOP decide to drop their support for Trump?
Meanwhile, the first signs of who might be the Democrat nominee for president in 2020 will begin to emerge. Just today, we have seen Elizabeth Warren all but announce her intention to run in the primary, and we can expect names like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker join the race. However, with a potential of over twelve people in the running, don’t expect there to be a clear front-runner from the outset; there certainly wasn’t for the Republicans at the end of 2015.
Away from politics in the United States, NASA will begin using SpaceX for missions to the International Space Station after Russia’s obligation to send American astronauts to space comes to a close. SpaceX will be the first private company to send astronauts to space and could herald a major landmark in a growing corporate space race.
Elsewhere in the Americas, Brazil’s new far-right president takes office tomorrow, and will almost certainly bring with him policies that will weaken Brazilian democracy and threaten the rights of minority groups in the country. Bolsonaro has already announced his plans to quickly implement laws to allow citizens legal access to firearms and we can expect homophobic and anti-abortion laws to follow suit.
In addition, Cuba will hold a referendum in February on major constitutional reform, including the recognition of private property, the presumption of innocence in the justice system and banning discrimination on gender, disability and ethnicity. Should this pass, the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage will come to an end, potentially paving the way for same-sex couples tying the knot later in the year.
Canada also face an election in October, where current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be fighting to remain in office against a revived Conservative Party under Andrew Scheer.
As the European Union heads into its parliamentary elections in May, Brexit will continue to dominate discussions in the region. In two weeks, Theresa May’s deal will (after some delay) be brought to a parliamentary vote and, unless there is a dramatic change in opinion, it will almost certainly fail. The question is what will come next. If Corbyn is successful in his planned vote of no confidence vote in the government, we could see another election – the result of which would likely be another hung parliament and may fail to break the deadlock. Another referendum is a possibility but looks unlikely. What is certain is that an extension, or possibly even withdrawal, of Article 50 will need to take place (should the deal fail to pass parliament).
Also in Britain, it is likely that 2019 will mark the end of Theresa May’s time in Number 10, having promised not to contest the next general election. Speculation is rife that May will opt to resign in May or June after Britain leaves the EU (provided that her deal passes parliament). Should the UK end up leaving with no deal, it is reasonable to expect economic strife and a downturn on the markets.
In May’s EU elections, we can expect to see political trends across Europe repeated on a transnational level. Gains will almost certainly be seen for centrist parties like Spain’s Citizen’s Party, left-wing parties like Germany’s Green Party and the far-right parties of Europe, such as Italy’s Lega Nord, Germany’s Alternative for Germany and Poland’s Law and Justice Party. These will be at the expense of the ‘old order’ of Christian democratic and social democratic parties.
In France, Macron will continue to try and quash support for the yellow vest movement, which have persisted in protests against his government. It is clear that his plans for greater reform will have to be radically altered in order to not raise further animosity and further weaken his approval ratings.
Meanwhile, in Spain, the minority socialist government may be forced to call for a snap election, especially if they fail to get agreement from other parties to pass the budget. A snap election will see a four horse race, with the possibility of the far-right party Vox entering the national parliament for the first time. Local elections will see a contest for the mayoralty of Barcelona, which could provoke separatist sentiment from Catalans; a trial of separatist leaders for their unilateral declaration of independence in 2017 is due to take place near the start of the year.
Elections are taking place in many countries across Europe, including Poland, Finland, Belgium and Ukraine, which will be seen as a further bell-weather for the state of populism in European democracies. Austria will also legalise same-sex marriage on January 1st.
Sudan has seen anti-government protests in recent days and weeks and are beginning to form a cohesive movement against its tyrannical leader of over three decades, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. With economy struggling, anger over corruption and a lack of investment in infrastructure, it’s possible that these protests could turn into a greater force that could topple Bashir from power.
South Africa face elections in August amid growing animosity towards the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which has led the country since 1994. Although they are almost certain to remain in power, it is likely that opposition parties will make major gains at their expense.
Elections will also be taking place in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Madagascar, as well as in Libya, where Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi) is contesting the election with a Gaddafi loyalist militia party.
India, alongside commemorating the 150th birthday of Ghandi and the centenary of the Amritsar massacre, will go to the polls as part of the world’s largest election – with over 800 million registered voters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approval ratings have been dropping over the last year to opposition leader Rahul Ghandi. Current polls suggest a hung parliament, with Modi’s National Democratic Alliance as the largest party.
2019 will also be a big year for China. As part of its greater ‘belt road initiative’ to allow greater trade routes into the West, China will begin building a new port city in Sri Lanka, which is set to be complete sometime in the 2040s. However, there is also the potential for a continued slowdown in the Chinese economy and also potential for some unrest in the country. A number of notable anniversaries take place in the country which could spark protests against the government; the 100th anniversary of the May Fourth student movement, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the communist government, 60 years of exile for Tibet’s Dalai Lama and 30 years since Tiananmen Square. All of these mark potential flashpoints, as well as a joint maritime exercise between the United States and South Asian nations in the contested South China Sea.
Also in China, Google will return after being banned in 2014 by the government. However, the new search engine ‘Dragonfly’ is set to self-censor certain searches (without alerting the user) to comply with Chinese authorities. Free speech and human rights advocates fear that this could open the floodgates for other countries to have their own censored versions of search engines to favour their own administrations.
Japan will heighten its preparation for the 2020 Olympics, with tickets going on sale in the middle of the year and the new Olympic stadium set to be completed in November. The country will also hold the Rugby World Cup in September, becoming the first country in Asia to do so. In April, the country will also enthrone a new Emperor, as Emperor Akihito abdicates – the first Japanese Emperor to do so in over two centuries.
Qatar will also hold the World Athletics Championships in September in a major test for the country in the run up to holding the World Cup in 2022.
Turkey is set to continue its closer relationship with Russia, importing a Russian air defence system in the new year. This will continue to test its relationship with the United States and its place within NATO.
Taiwan will legalise same-sex marriage in May, following a Constitutional Court ruling in 2017. This is despite Taiwanese voters voting to ban same-sex marriage in a non-binding referendum in November.
Australia will also go to the polls in the new year, with Labor set to buck the trend of other centre-left parties and return to power. Support for the Coalition under Scott Morrison has continued to drop, after forcing Malcolm Turnbull from office earlier in 2018. However, minor parties such as the Greens, the Centre Alliance and the far-right One Nation could also make gains and potentially force a hung parliament on Labor.
Other elections will be taking place in Israel, the Philippines, Indonesia and Afghanistan.
Two independence referenda will be taking place in Oceania this year; the Chuuk State will be voting on whether to break away from the Pacific state of Micronesia in March and Bougainville will vote on independence from Papua New Guinea in June.