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The List: Elections to Watch in 2009

Who will be sitting across the table from Barack Obama after 2009?

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Bolivia

Date: Jan. 25, 2009 and Dec. 6, 2009

Who’s running: A constitutional referendum supported by president Evo Morales and opposed by governors of Bolivia’s eastern states

What’s at stake: Bolivians will go to the polls on Jan. 25 for a referendum on a new national constitution. Championed by President Evo Morales, the new constitution would empower Bolivia’s indigenous majority and increase state control over the economy. Reforms will establish a limit on the size of large land holdings and provide for the redistribution of revenues from Bolivia’s gas fields. The referendum is fiercely opposed by Bolivians in the wealthier, gas-rich eastern regions, many of whom are of European or mixed-race descent. Tensions have occasionally spilled into violence, as anti-Morales protesters seized government offices and launched a series of strikes in August.

Nevertheless, observers expect the constitution to gain the support of a majority of voters. Assuming that occurs, early elections will by held on Dec. 6, 2009 for president, vice-president, and congress. If Morales wins both contests, he will have cemented his legacy on Bolivian politics. Expect the governors of Bolivia’s four eastern states to actively campaign against Morales in both elections.

DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images

Israel

Date: February 10, 2009

Who’s running: Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud), Tzipi Livni (Kadima), and Ehud Barak (Labor)

What at stake: The outcome of Israel’s assault on Gaza will likely affect the course of the snap elections to the Israeli Knesset, triggered following the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Kadima candidate Tzipi Livni is currently serving as foreign minister, while Labor’s Ehud Barak is the defense minister. Livni’s primary challenger is Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who brought Likud back from a crushing defeat in 2006 to emerge as the favorite to be Israel’s next prime minister. Kadima, meanwhile, is attempting to poach the left-leaning voters of Labor, which risks descending into irrelevancy.

Netanyahu has a well-deserved reputation for hawkishness on security matters, earned during his previous term as prime minister and his opposition to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan. His election would challenge the negotiations between Syria and Israeli that have been held under Turkish mediation, and would likely make the removal of major settler outposts in the West Bank impossible. With Hamas also holding a firm grip on power in Gaza, the two equally intransient foes would be poised for more violent confrontations.

PABALLO THEKISO/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa

Date: Sometime between March and May, 2009

Who’s running: The African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of the People (COPE), and the Democratic Alliance (DA)

What’s at stake: The ANC has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994, but some cracks may finally be showing in the run-up to this spring’s election. Jacob Zuma, who defeated outgoing President Thabo Mbeki last year to emerge as head of the ANC, has long been a divisive figure in South African politics. In 2005, Zuma faced charges that he raped the daughter of a prominent ANC family, for which he was later acquitted. Zuma dodged another legal bullet in September 2008, when a judge dismissed, on procedural grounds, longstanding charges against Zuma of corruption in a South African arms deal.

The controversies surrounding Zuma, as well as his narrow margin of victory over Mbeki, has created fissures in the ANC. Mbeki loyalists, led by former Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, bolted the ANC to form COPE. The rival party has already performed impressively in by-election campaigns and has attracted close to 500,000 supporters, according to party leaders.

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The Palestinian Authority

Date: Very soon, perhaps in April

Who’s Running: Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’s Ismail Haniyah

What’s at stake: In the wake of Israel’s assault on Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, a Hamas victory in the presidential and legislative elections – if they are held at all — for the Palestinian Authority would signal Palestinian endorsement of Hamas’s implacable resistance to the Israeli regime. In the absence of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, Abbas will most likely face off against Ismail Haniyah, a Hamas leader and former prime minister of the PA. Hamas emerged victorious in the 2006 legislative elections, wining 74 seats to Fatah’s 45.

Hamas staged an armed takeover of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2006, triggering a rift between the two factions which persists to this day. These elections could allow the Palestinian parties to form a unified political front against Israel, or cement the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah. Polls taken before the Israeli offensive showed Abbas and Fatah leading by a healthy margin in both the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas had hoped that a new round of elections, or the threat of them, could force Hamas to take a more accommodating outlook towards reconciliation talks. The duration and the severity of the Israeli campaign in Gaza, however, could leave his plans in disarray.

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India

Date: April or May, 2009

Who’s running: Manmohan Singh (Indian National Congress), L.K Advani (Bharatiya Janata Party) What’s at stake: Following the terrorist attacks that rocked the financial center of Mumbai in late November, leaving more than 200 dead and 300 wounded, members of the ruling Congress Party feared voters would punish them in the upcoming elections to the Indian legislature. However, that appears increasingly unlikely. Congress notched surprise victories in three state elections in early December over the Hindu nationalist BJP. Though the BJP tried to turn that election into a referendum on security, it appears that development issues such as access to clean water and electricity were foremost on voters’ minds. India has been hit hard by the global economic slowdown – industrial production has fallen for the first time in 15 years – and it appears that these economic concerns may still trump fears of terrorism. Majid/Getty Images

Iran

Date: June 12, 2009

Who’s running: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former Majlis Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, and maybe Tehran Mayor Mohammad Qalibaf and former President Mohammed Khatami

What’s at stake: Critics have blamed Ahmadinejad for the worsening state of the Iranian economy, which has been further damaged by plummeting oil prices. In November, 60 of Iran’s economists published a letter accusing Ahmadinejad’s policies of producing skyrocketing inflation rates and high unemployment. Furthermore, the letter charged, Ahmadinejad’s tension-making interaction with the outside world, with causing foreign investments to flee the country.

Former President Mohammad Khatami has yet to declare whether he will be a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. If the Iranian public rallies to Khatami, it could potentially pave the way for a rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran. Don’t, however, count Ahmadinejad out yet. He still retains an important trump card: the support of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

Maxi Failla/AFP/Getty Images

Mexico

Date: July 5, 2009

Who’s Running: The National Action Party (PAN), the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)

What’s at stake: The term of President Felipe Caldern, the leader of PAN, has been marked by an increasingly aggressive, increasingly bloody, and increasingly controversial war against Mexico’s powerful drug cartels. Drug violence claimed nearly 5,000 lives in 2008.

The legislative elections will determine whether Caldern maintains support in the Chamber of Deputies to continue his drug war. In the 2006 elections, PAN claimed 206 out of the 500 total seats in the Chamber of Deputies, while the leftist PRD won 127 seats. The PRD has been critical of Caldern’s confrontational approach, and has called for a National Agreement to Combat Organized Crime, which would include a discussion on the legalization of drugs. If the PAN emerges victorious, Caldern will have a free hand to continue his prosecution of the drug war. If the PRD gains strength, he may find himself hamstrung by a hostile legislature.

ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

Sudan

Date: Scheduled for July 2009; the U.N. has recommended that they be delayed to avoid the rainy season in southern Sudan

Who’s running: President Omar al-Bashir of the National Congress Party (NCP) and Salva Kiir of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)

What’s at stake: These presidential and legislative elections are an important milestone for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in 2005 between the predominantly Arab government in Khartoum and the southern-based former rebels and marking the end of the second Sudanese civil war. The rival factions have been building up their arms in anticipation of the elections, hoping to expand their support through extra-democratic means. This has lead to increasingly frequent clashes, particularly in the contested Southern Kordofan region.

Meanwhile, President Bashir finds himself embattled both internationally and domestically. A prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has requested a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of genocide and war crimes in the Darfur region. Kiir, the head of the southern SPLM who has been Bashir’s partner in a unity government since 2005, has announced that he will oppose him in the coming elections. Even if Bashir manages to cling to power, a strong showing by the opposition could foreshadow the secession of Southern Sudan in a vote scheduled for 2011, in accordance with the CPA.

CLEMENS BILAN/AFP/Getty Images

Germany

Date: Sept. 27, 2009

Who’s running: Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democratic Party)

What’s at stake: While the United States and most of Europe pass ever-larger stimulus packages to combat the global economic downturn, Chancellor Angela Merkel has remained a lonely voice in opposition. Her insistence that Germany would not get involved in a competition to outdo one another with an endless list of new proposals, which she deemed senseless, earned her the nickname of Madame No across Europe. The approaching Bundestag elections will test whether German voters approve of her low-key approach to the financial crisis.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union currently forms a grand coalition government with its main rival, the center-left Social Democratic Party, which has nominated Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as its leader. While current polls suggest that Merkel will beat Steinmeier, it does not appear that either party can increase its support enough to form a governing coalition with one of Germany’s smaller parties. Thus, many expect the grand coalition, which Der Spiegel dubbed a loveless marriage and a recipe for political paralysis, to continue.

Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images

Afghanistan

Date: Late 2009

Who’s running: Hamid Karzai, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, and current Finance Minister Anwar ul-Haq Ahady

What’s at stake: This presidential election will not only gauge President Karzai’s success at weathering charges of corruption and ineffectiveness, but the extent to which the U.S. military has succeeded in dealing with the renewed Taliban insurgency. Karzai’s brother is believed to be the head of a drug trafficking group involved in the opium and heroin trade. More damaging to his reputation inside Afghanistan, Karzai’s government is perceived to be largely ineffective outside of Kabul, unable to provide security of basic social welfare programs.

Smelling blood, Taliban leader Mullah Omar has rejected Karzai’s requests for reconciliation and called for a boycott of the upcoming elections. If the U.S. military cannot co-opt or defeat large segments of the Taliban insurgency before the election, Afghans in the provinces may not be able to vote, or could be attacked by the Taliban at polling stations. Such a fiasco could destroy Karzai’s legitimacy and cause the U.S. and its remaining allies to question their commitment to Afghanistan.

David Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. @davidkenner

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