Busy month for democracy: 14 countries vote before U.S.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern voting early in Auckland. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

We are at the onset of a very busy month for global democracy.

The big picture: By the time Americans go to the polls on Nov. 3, the world will have seen 12 national elections and three high-stakes referenda over the course of one month. Earlier pandemic-related delays are partially responsible for the electoral cluster.

Driving the news: The electoral onslaught began with votes on Sunday in the South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia, which rejected independence from France by a 53%-47% margin, and in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan.

  • Protesters are in the streets of Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, tonight to protest vote-buying in Sunday's parliamentary election. Official results showed all genuine opposition parties falling short of the 7% electoral threshold.
  • What to watch: The opposition is demanding fresh elections, and tonight's chaotic scenes have already sparked comparisons to other uprisings in former Soviet republics. It's too early to know where this is heading.

What's next: Lithuania and Tajikistan will both hold elections next weekend, followed by Bolivia, Guinea and New Zealand a week later. Then come 8 national votes in two weeks, culminating in the U.S. election.

In New Zealand, early voting is underway and the virus is under control.

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's party is running on its COVID-19 record and leading in the polls — perhaps unsurprising given there are currently just seven active cases in the country, Axios' Rebecca Falconer reports.

In Bolivia, an Oct. 18 presidential vote will belatedly determine the successor to Evo Morales, the leftist who fled the country following last October's presidential vote amid claims of electoral irregularities.

  • Jeanine Añez, the right-wing interim president, has been accused of targeting Morales allies since succeeding him. She dropped out of the race last month so as to not split the conservative vote.
  • Morales' handpicked successor, Luis Arce, leads the polls but needs a margin of 10 points to avoid a run-off. Another disputed vote could lead to violence.

Several of the upcoming elections are already sources of international concern.

  • In Tanzania (Oct. 28), President John Magufuli has imposed a crackdown on independent media ahead of his re-election bid, and authorities have arrested at least 17 members of the opposition, per Human Rights Watch.
  • The presidents of Guinea (Oct. 18) and Ivory Coast (Oct. 31) are seeking constitutionally dubious third terms.
  • Elections for parliament in Georgia (Oct. 31) and the presidency in Moldova (Nov. 1) will be read as tests both of democracy and of Russian influence.

Algeria's constitutional referendum on Nov. 1 serves as a reminder that the uprising that toppled Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year remains unfinished.

  • The protests stopped when COVID-19 arrived, and more recently, authorities have "played a cat-and-mouse game" of arrests and intimidation, the NYT's Adam Nossiter reports.
  • On the one hand: President Abdelmadjid Tebboune insists the new constitution will herald a new era for the country.
  • On the other: "[H]opes are now fading for an overhaul of the political system and real democracy in Algeria," Nossiter writes.

Chile’s constitutional referendum on Oct. 25 is also the result of an uprising that began last year, though it's really four decades in the making.

  • Chile is a relatively prosperous democracy, but its reputation for stability was punctured last October when public anger erupted onto the streets of Santiago.
  • The protests were driven by inequality that Chileans believe is baked into their constitution, which dates back to 1980 and Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
  • Critics argue the constitution “acts as a kind of straitjacket on Chilean democracy,” Daniel Alarcón writes in the New Yorker, because progressive legislation is often struck down by the courts.
  • Where things stand: Polls show 70% of Chileans planning to vote to replace the constitution.

There have already been at least two dramatic twists in Ivory Coast's presidential election, set for Oct. 31.

  • First, the handpicked successor to President Alassane Ouattara died. Then, Ouattara announced his own candidacy, courting outrage from the opposition by claiming recent constitutional changes had reset his presidential terms (he'd otherwise be ineligible).
  • "The conditions are just not ripe for a peaceful, transparent and accepted election at this point in time," Mohamed Diatta of the Institute for Security Studies told the Global Dispatches podcast.
  • What to watch: Observers fear a repeat of 2010, when a disputed election led to a brief civil war that left 3,000 people dead.

The bottom line: By the time election day arrives in the U.S., democracy will have already faced several critical tests around the world.

Worth noting: Egypt and Seychelles will also hold elections this month, for parliament and president respectively.

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