From the COVID-19 pandemic to the environment to digital threats, the presidential and legislative elections of 2022 will be shaped by global concerns and important issues. Hungary’s place in the EU is potentially in play, as are foreign policy and strategic alliances in the Philippines, while two key Latin American countries might well pivot from far-right governments to leftist ones.   

Here is a look at some key contests:

South Korea, March 9

South Korean president Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party is term-limited from running again, and the March election comes amid allegations of corruption and complaints about slow progress on easing tensions with North Korea. Lee Jae-myung, the Democratic former governor of the province around Seoul, is running to replace Moon. Recent polls show him trailing his rival, former chief public prosecutor Yoon Seok-youl of the conservative People Power Party.

This election has implications for the rest of the world since South Korea’s conservatives are traditionally hawkish on North Korea, while the Democrats tend to favor a more conciliatory approach. Whoever wins in March will play a key role in deciding whether to continue South Korea’s recent military buildup, which is intended to counter both North Korea and China.

France, April 10

Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, who heads the centrist La Republique en Marche party, is running for a second five-year term. French voters aren’t necessarily kind to incumbent presidents. Macron currently leads all polls, but since 1988 only one sitting president has been elected to a second term (that would be Jacques Chirac).

In 2017 Macron soundly beat Marine Le Pen, who tried to make her far-right National Rally party more palatable to a broad array of voters.  Now Le Pen is being joined in the fight for the right by inflammatory former TV commentator Eric Zemmour. Valérie Pecresse, of the conservative Les Republicains party, has surged in recent polls and may face Macron in the runoff, which is required under French law if no candidate wins a majority in the first round.

With the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel from office last fall, Macron stands as one of Europe’s staunchest EU supporters. If he loses, French policy will move in a more conservative, nationalistic direction. And regardless of who wins in April, parliamentary elections two months later, in June, will be crucial in terms of getting policy implemented.

Hungary, April 3

For the first time in his recent political career, Hungary’s nationalist conservative leader Viktor Orban faces a unified opposition. And the stakes are high– parliamentary elections will help chart the country’s future course between closer relationships with authoritarian powers such as Russia and China or toward tighter ties with the Transatlantic community.

Orban has been attempting to develop a new political construct that is conservative, nationalist, and sovereigntist.  He has found backing for this approach from other parties on the right across Europe but has sacrificed membership in Europe’s largest center-right family, the European People’s Party.  He has also struck out on a path of close relationships with Russia and China – countries he has said are better positioned to remain economically competitive, over the long term, than those of the liberal democratic West. 

All of this has set him on a collision course with several institutions of the EU.  In 2021, the European Commission notified Hungary (and Poland) that concerns over judicial independence, weak prosecution of corruption, and public procurement problems could pose a risk to EU financial interests and eventually lead to penalties.    

In previous elections, Orban’s political opposition was divided, but Hungary’s main opposition parties have rallied behind Peter Marki-Zay, a small-city Catholic mayor with support across the political spectrum for his conservative, anti-corruption platform.  Polls suggest the race is close, but with the opposition coalition being so new and untested, it’s unclear just how competitive the election will be. 

Philippines, May 9

President Rodrigo Duterte is term-limited from running again, but the current front-runners in May’s election are very much in his image. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., whose father led the Philippines until he was ousted in 1986, is running with Duterte’s daughter, Sara. They are leading in recent polls, but they face at least four challengers.

Some Filipinos worry that a Marcos-Duterte ticket would mean a continuation of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations that characterize Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

Duterte has also cracked down on press freedom and moved away from the U.S. alliance to engage with China.  The Philippines is of acute strategic importance, and though Duterte has been flirting with China, the U.S., the Philippines’ longtime ally, has been increasing its military presence there, something China would like to slow or even reverse.

Australia, likely mid-May

Incumbent Scott Morrison, a conservative, must call an election by the end of September, and will probably do so in May, so that elections for the House and Senate can be combined, as is traditional. Polls show the race between Morrison and the Labour Party’s Anthony Albanese to be tight.

Climate change and China are two major issues in the contest. Bushfires tore through the country in the (Australian) summer of 2019-2020. The fires have been directly linked to global warming, and Australia’s environmental policies have come under increasing scrutiny. Australia is the world’s leading exporter of coal, and Morrison has doubled down, even bringing a lump of it to a debate in parliament. In late 2021, he declared that Australia would achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 but did not turn his pledge into law.

Morrison has moved Australia away from China and closer to the United States. But Australia’s economy is tied to China, its biggest trading partner.

Colombia, May 29

In Colombia’s last presidential election, in 2018, the far-right Ivan Duque defeated the far-left former guerrilla member, long-time Senator, and former Mayor of Bogota Gustavo Petro. That could flip this year as Petro is touted as the front-runner, ahead of a polarized race characterized by a wide range of independent candidates powered by “kingmakers,” i.e., senators who control votes instead of being driven by ideology.  Colombia’s vote presents the potential for a huge ideological swing from right to left.

Although the current government claims it has accelerated public investment to promote economic growth in response to the pandemic, unrest paralyzed the country in April 2021. Across Latin America, anger about growing inequality, slowing economies, and the response to the pandemic has put leftists in power in Honduras and Chile. Colombia and Brazil could be next. Despite an increase in insecurity and growing concerns about   the rise of violence from illegal armed groups, the United Nations Security Council has called for continued support for the implementation of the Peace Agreement signed five years ago.   

Kenya, August 9

Kenyans will go to the polls to elect members of parliament and a new president in 2022, and the field is wide open since term limits prohibit President Uhuru Kenyatta from running again. Elections in Kenya can be both violent and controversial—the 2017 presidential election had to be rerun because of voting irregularities. Since the introduction of multiparty politics in 1992, Kenya’s voters have split along tribal, rather than political lines. Elections are often marked by ethnic violence. And democracy in the Horn of Africa has faced some setbacks this year, as political conflict has plagued Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia. 

Meanwhile, the pre-election maneuvering in Kenya continues. William Ruto, Kenyatta’s Deputy President and fellow Jubilee Party member is currently the frontrunner. But Ruto and Kenyatta have fallen out over how to bridge Kenya’s ethnic divides. Kenyatta has pushed for constitutional changes that would promote power sharing among rival ethnic groups. Kenya’s High Court, however, blocked Kenyatta’s proposal to hold a referendum on revising the constitution.  

In December, opposition leader Raila Odinga announced he will run for the presidency—this is his fifth try. He and Kenyatta agreed to a truce in 2018 (referred to as “the handshake”) which some believe signals a deal for Odinga to replace Kenyatta. But nothing is clear, except that Kenyans are concerned about the high cost of living, unemployment, the pandemic response, and the potential for violence in this election cycle.

Brazil, October 2

President Jair Bolsonaro has made global news since he was elected in 2018, mostly for denying realities he doesn’t like: first climate change and then the COVID pandemic. While Bolsonaro dismissed COVID as “a little flu” and told Brazilians to “stop whining,” Brazil racked up the second highest official death toll in the world. Late last year, a group of senators voted to recommend charging the president with crimes against humanity, citing his policies promoting herd immunity and spreading COVID-19 disinformation. Bolsonaro has undermined judicial independence, encroached on Indigenous land rights in the Amazon, and persecuted critics. Amid high inflation and a record drought, his approval ratings dropped to record lows in late November.

Bolsonaro told Brazilians in September that “only God” can remove him from power, but former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva might have a role to play in doing just that. He is expected to run, since his 2017 conviction on corruption was overturned in April.  Lula, of the leftist Workers Party, is also a polarizing candidate, but recent polls show him ahead of Bolsonaro. All of these elections are arriving against a backdrop of deep social and economic change. The pandemic is not going away, and governments’ responses to that fact, and the economic impacts for the world’s poorest, are still shaking out. All of the elections listed above—only a fraction of those to come in 2022—highlight the challenges facing democracy advocates and institutions in the years to come.

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