The Big Events of 2019

Each year is shaped by unforeseen events and unexpected crises. But there are also, of course, events we know about in advance that create major potential turning points in national, regional, and global politics. Here are ten good examples to keep an eye on in 2019:


Nigeria general election (February 16) – In the country home to Africa's largest economy, about 60 percent of citizens are young enough to be grandchildren of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and challenger Atiku Abubakar. Buhari's victory in 2015 marked the first time since the reintroduction of democracy in 1999 that power was passed peacefully from one political party to another. The big question this time is whether either candidate can address the country's needs and whether a closely fought election will produce an inconclusive result that provokes unrest and even violence.

Brexit Day (March 29) – Under current UK law, Britain must leave the European Union on March 29. But it's not clear whether Brexit will happen on that date, if at all. If Prime Minister Theresa May can't win parliamentary backing for her Brexit plan in the coming weeks, she might ask for more time. The EU could then offer a few months' extension, if its leaders think the UK will call a second referendum that might cancel Brexit or accept a deal that benefits Europe's economy. The list of "ifs" is growing longer even as the deadline draws near.

Ukraine presidential election (March 31) – The 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine failed because its winners didn't deliver change, and the 2014 "Revolution of Dignity" is now failing for the same reason. Frustrated by continuing corruption, a stagnant economy, and slow progress toward a European future, Ukrainians want someone new, but the leading contenders in this election are incumbent Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Russia is watching too. The Kremlin can't control the outcome, but it will interfere, perhaps through more military pressure.

India general election (April-May) – Some 850 million Indians will cast ballots in an election that's in part a referendum on Narendra Modi's four years as prime minister. Recent election losses for his party in provinces where they've performed well in the past offer a warning. Modi can claim credit for the world's fastest-growing major economy and big (desperately needed) spending on India's physical infrastructure. His critics say ambitious reforms, particularly on health care, have stalled, and that by failing to address rising prices, he's abandoned India's farmers, a crucial national voting bloc.

Indonesia presidential election (April 17) – As in 2014, it's Joko Widodo, now the incumbent president, against Prabowo Subianto. But much has changed since then in the world's third largest democracy. In particular, Islam now plays a larger role in the country's politics. The challenger has partnered with a variety of hardline Islamist parties. The incumbent has responded by naming a conservative cleric as his running mate. In addition, many Indonesians get their news from Facebook, and "fake news" has undermined public faith in government.

European parliamentary elections (May 23-26) – Can those who've won national elections under a "Country First" banner expand their influence within European institutions? Populist nationalists like Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban are hoping to capitalize on anti-EU anger across Europe to strengthen their political leverage within the European Parliament. A sizeable victory for parties of the far-right could lead to further gridlock and confrontation within the EU's halls of power. This election will tell us a lot about the current state of European populism.

South Africa general election (between May and August) – For older South Africans, the African National Congress (ANC) is the party of liberation from apartheid. Younger citizens know the ANC mainly as the party of power. President Cyril Ramaphosa will lead the ANC into elections this year hoping that voters see no better alternative, but a quarter century from the end of white rule, public cynicism runs deep as chronic problems like income inequality and corruption remain. Can the popular Ramaphosa revive enthusiasm for the ruling party?

Canada federal election (By October 21) – The resounding 2015 victory for Justin Trudeau and his center-left Liberal Party now seems like ancient history, and both the prime minister and his party have lost much of their popularity. Victories for center-right parties in Ontario in 2017 and Quebec in 2018 suggest a much closer national election this year. But a split within the center-right Conservative Party could help Trudeau and the Liberals win this year with a lower vote share.

Argentina general election (October 27) – Current President Mauricio Macri, once a wealthy businessman, hoped that painful austerity policies would jumpstart Argentina's economy in time to boost his chances of re-election. It hasn't happened. Former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, whose spendthrift economic policies made austerity necessary, is hoping to mount a comeback. Directly at stake is whether economic distress will push Argentina back to the left.

Israel legislative elections (By November 5) – This election must come by November but could take place much sooner. In an era of voter demand for change, Benjamin Netanyahu, in office since 2009, is just months away from becoming Israel's longest-ever continuously serving prime minister. But Israeli police have recommended that he face corruption charges in three separate cases. He leads a fragile coalition and has no shortage of potential rivals, mainly on the right. This vote will be as colorful and bitterly contested as any in the world this year.

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WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Syria ISIS attack A suicide bombing in Syria claimed by ISIS killed 14 people including four Americans this week. Two questions we'll be watching: Will this attack impact the pace of President Trump's ordered withdrawal of US troops from Syria, and is the bombing part of a broader ISIS strategy to launch a wave of new attacks as US troops depart?

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