Welcome to 2022. 2020 was a bad year for global democracy. 2021 wasn't any better: democracy was entirely dismantled in Hong Kong; Russia saw its worst year of repressions since the collapse of the Soviet Union; and the United States had yet to pass voting rights legislation amid Trump-inspired efforts to make the stealing of elections easier.
Looking ahead to 2022, a number of polarized countries face pivotal elections. Many of them are competitive, and they could shift the balance of power between populists and (small-d) democrats. Here are some:
In April 2022, Hungarian populist party Fidesz, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, will face its first real prospect of losing its supermajority, which it has held since 2010. In elections past, the opposition has been divided and mainly centered around the capital, Budapest. Now, six parties in the opposition have united around a small-town mayor, Péter Márki-Zay. Anti-migrant politics have kept Orban in power; however, mass migration has slowed. With that issue mostly out of the public sphere, Orban has attempted to use LGBT rights to cause conflict with the European Union, in an attempt to rally his supporters. It's unclear whether this strategy will work -- polls are neck-and-neck, and Orban faces more immediate concerns over high inflation.
French president Emmanuel Macron is running for a second five-year term. He is unlikely to win an outright majority of the vote on April 10; therefore, he will likely face a runoff on April 24. But who his opponent will be in the likely runoff is an open question. Of late, center-right candidate Valérie Pécresse has polled close to Macron. She is little-known outside France, and her advance would shut out two far-right candidates -- Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour. Le Pen was the finalist last time against Macron, and lost in a landslide. Zemmour has become a phenomenon as a far-right anti-immigrant provocateur. He challenged a woman to remove her headscarf and has suggested he could wean France off of antidepressants.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is term-limited and leaving office. He is best known for launching a war on drugs that resulted in thousands dead in extrajudicial killings. On foreign policy, he embraced China and moved away from the United States. Despite leaving office, there is little indication that his populist authoritarian politics will go away in the May 2022 elections. The candidate who is most likely to succeed him is Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator, and a strong ally of Duterte's. The vice-presidential candidate is Duterte's own daughter, Sara. The ticket currently has a commanding lead in the polls. Vice President Leni Robredo, a critic of Duterte, remains far behind Marcos in election surveys.
Brazilian voters will face perhaps the most polarizing choice of the year in October -- whether to re-elect far-right president Jair Bolsonaro or return leftist former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva to office. Bolsonaro is well-known for his COVID denialism, mishandling of the pandemic that has killed 680,000 people in Brazil, and environmental policies that have endangered the Amazon rainforest. He has low approval ratings, and has been hampered by high unemployment and high inflation. Already, he has embraced the Trumpian playbook of calling elections rigged if he loses and making baseless allegations of voter fraud.
Lula leads Bolsonaro by double-digit margins. Once banned from running from office due to past convictions for corruption, those charges were annulled by the Supreme Court. Now, he is trying to portray himself as a unifier against Bolsonaro despite his unabashedly leftist politics.
The United States
The midterm elections in 2022 in the United States will be a proxy battle between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Republicans seem very likely to take back the House of Representatives in 2022. Democrats only hold a slim majority in the House. President Biden's weak approval ratings, inflation concerns, and strong Republican performance in 2021 elections all indicate that the GOP will perform well in 2022 House races.
The 50-50 Senate remains up in the air, where six out of 34 seats are rated as a toss up by Cook Political Report. Most of these races are in swing states like Georgia and Pennsylvania. Winning one Senate seat can mean a lot in the highly polarized body. Had Democrats not won Georgia's runoff elections, Biden would not have passed a stimulus or infrastructure bill. Had Democrats won close races in North Carolina and Maine, the Build Back Better social policy bill would have been passed by now. It remains in limbo due to the objections of one Democratic senator -- Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Should Joe Biden win a second term in 2024, it remains an open question whether Republicans would vote to certify the result, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and 146 other Republicans voted to overturn the results of a democratic election hours after a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
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