An Election Wave Rolls In

Over the next 11 weeks, there will be eight important elections globally covering populations of more than 2.2 billion people.

Here's what you need to know:


Thailand – A Restoration of (Limited) Democracy (March 24)

This will be the first national vote since the military seized power in 2014, but it isn't quite an open election. Some 500 representatives to the lower house will be directly elected. But the military will appoint all 250 members of parliament's upper house, and the upper and lower houses together will elect the new prime minister. That ensures the military will have a big say in the outcome.

Ukraine – The Joker's Wild (March 31, with a likely second round on April 21)

Even before President Petro Poroshenko found himself contending with fresh corruption accusations against some of his associates, he was already facing a tough reelection challenge from former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a fictional Ukrainian president on TV. For now, Zelenskiy, the wildcard in this deck, leads in the polls. Vladimir Putin will be watching very, very, very closely.

Turkey: Erdogan in Decline? (March 31)

Things haven't been going President Erdogan's way. Turkey is in recession, relations with Washington and other NATO allies are rocky, and his adventures in Syria haven't gone well. Fears for his domestic political strength led him to invite an ultranationalist party to join his Justice and Development Party in an informal alliance ahead of elections later this month. These are local races, but his party could lose control of government in both Istanbul and Ankara. Given that nearly three-quarters of Turkey's citizens now live in cities, that would be a sure sign of trouble for Turkey's strongman.

Israel: Bibi's Toughest Test (April 9)

Benjamin Netanyahu is one win away from surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion as Israel's longest-serving prime minister. But with corruption indictments hanging over his head and a unified opposition led by his former army chief of staff, Benny Gantz, Netanyahu will face an exceptionally tough test. His ally and friend Donald Trump will help burnish his image with an invitation to the White House in the days before the vote.

Indonesia: The Outlier Election (April 17)

A popular incumbent president is cruising toward easy re-election. When was the last time we could write that about any major country in the world? But Indonesia, the world's largest predominantly Muslim country, is a relative success story, and President Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) is widely expected to coast past former Army General Prabowo Subianto next month. Jokowi's personal popularity, modest progress on health, education, and infrastructure reforms, and his decision to blunt attacks by religious conservatives by choosing an Islamist vice presidential running mate should bring him first across the finish line.

Spain: Redrawing the Map (April 28)

Economic growth is up, and unemployment is down. But Catalan separatist pressures continue, the number of migrants entering Spain has risen, and a polling surge for the nationalist, populist, Euroskeptic Vox Party has shifted the ground underneath Spanish politics. The risk here is of further political fragmentation in a country that's recovered relatively well from its debt crisis and, until recently, avoided the populism roiling politics elsewhere in the EU.

India: The Modi Majority at Risk (April 11 – May 19)

Across the world's most diverse country, some 900 million people are eligible to vote in this seven-phase parliamentary election over 39 days. Some voters will treat this contest as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. Others will be influenced more by local issues. No one in India can compete with Modi's political stature, but India's strong growth rates have benefitted some far more than others. The question: Can the BJP win another majority, or will it need partners to govern?

European Parliament: Can Populists Work Together? (May 23-26)

Populists within Italy's Lega, Poland's PiS, France's Rassemblement National, the Netherlands' Freedom Party, and Austria's Freedom Party are hoping to up their seat count in the European Parliament to challenge mainstream center-right and center-left alliances on immigration, trade, EU rules, and other issues. But can they work together? There are big differences among them on how to share the burdens of hosting migrants and policy toward Russia, for example.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Rome tomorrow ready to plant a flag in the heart of Europe. Italy is expected to break with most other advanced economies by formally signing onto Beijing's $1.3 trillion global Belt and Road (BRI) infrastructure initiative.

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China's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative is one of the most ambitious geopolitical projects ever. By 2027, it aims to dish out an estimated $1.3 trillion in loans, around ten times what the US spent on the Marshall Plan in the aftermath of World War II. As China increases its investment in the West, will countries' loyalty shift toward Beijing? Here's a look at the already staggering scope of Beijing's agenda.

As you read this, US-backed Syrian and Kurdish forces are killing or capturing the last few Islamic State militants holding out in a fingernail-shaped sliver of riverbank in eastern Syria. It's all that remains of the caliphate declared by the Islamist extremist group across a swath of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

Despite being on the back foot territorially, here are three ways that ISIS will continue to rile global politics:

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What we are watching

A retiring strongman in Kazakhstan – Since 1989, one man has ruled the massive, oil-rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. That is, until yesterday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president and put a close ally in charge until new elections are called. The 78-year old Kazakh leader was rumored to have been planning a transition for more than two years, putting allies in key posts, weakening the power of the presidency, and bolstering the clout of the country's Security Council, which he will still head. But the exact timing came as a surprise. We're watching this story – not just because it's a rare example of a strongman leaving power of his own will, but because we suspect Vladimir Putin is watching, too. The hardy 66-year-old Russian leader needs to figure out what he'll do when his current term expires in 2024. The constitution says Putin can't run again. Is Nazarbayev charting a path that Putin can follow?

A suspicious death in Italy – Italian authorities are investigating the suspicious demise of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old Moroccan model who died in Milan earlier this month – apparently with high levels of toxic metals in her blood that could indicate poisoning. Fadil was a frequent guest at ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous bunga-bunga sex parties, and was a key witness in his 2013 trial on underage sex allegations. Adding to the intrigue, Fadil was due to testify at another upcoming court case. Apart from all of this, her death could have an immediate impact on Italian politics: Italy's right-wing Lega party is now less likely to call a snap election this summer, because the Fadil case taints Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the group that Lega would ideally like to team up with in order to gain a majority in parliament.

What we are ignoring

The Scent of Fascism – In a new commercial out of Israel, a beautiful woman glides through arty black and white scenes like a model, purring about putting new limits on the judiciary, and spritzing herself with a perfume called "fascism." Hot stuff, right? But this isn't just a sultry model hawking a designer fragrance – it's the country's right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has incensed the left with her bid to curtail the power of courts, which she says are too liberal. At the end of the spoof ad, which is meant to promote her New Right party ahead of upcoming elections, Skaked takes whiff of the perfume and tells viewers: "Smells like democracy to me." We are ignoring this bid to put her party's name back in the headlines because the fascism joke just isn't funny.

Devin Nunes' Mom – Devin Nunes, a Republican Congressman from California, has filed a lawsuit seeking $250 million in damages against a Twitter personality who goes by the handle @DevinNunesMom, other users of the popular messaging platform, and Twitter itself. According to a copy of the complaint uploaded by Fox News, Nunes, the ardent Trump supporter who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says @DevinNunesMom engaged in slander by calling him "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," and claiming he was "voted Most Likely To Commit Treason in high school," among other digital insults. The suit also accused Twitter of suppressing conservative viewpoints – an argument that other Republicans have used to put political pressure on the company. We'll be watching how that argument plays out, but we are ignoring @DevinNunesMom. Judging by the massive jump in followers that @DevinNunesMom has received since the case was filed, by the time this is all over, we're pretty sure Congressman Nunes will wish he had done so, too.