The Elections Set to Change the World in 2023

The end of 2022 brings with it a host of campaign seasons across the planet, set to change the way major states are governed and how they interact with each other.

Below, five of the most consequential elections to look forward to in 2023 and how the races stand as the new year makes its grand entrance.

Nigeria

Africa’s largest economy is set to experience the first major presidential election of 2023 on February 25. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari – a military dictator in the 1980s who rebranded as an anti-Boko Haram fighter but has largely failed to deliver on his security promises – will conclude his second term in office and is thus not eligible to run again.

Nigeria has only had elections deemed free and fair since 1999. Despite his past, the elderly Buhari has not made any indications that he will seek to remain in power. He assumed the presidency after predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, who presided over some of the worst of Boko Haram’s violence in the north of the country, became the first incumbent in the nation’s history to accept defeat and step down in 2015. The sequence of peaceful transfers of power and lack of challenges to the election results have resulted in greater public trust in the elections and, thus, a potential for record turnout in February.

This background is crucial because it means Nigeria is headed toward another first in representative democracy: an election in which polls regularly show a third party candidate in the lead. Both Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) and Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have nominated septuagenarian establishment candidates: 70-year-old former Lagos Gov. Bola Tinubu and 76-year-old former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, respectively.

Both have consistently been losing in polls to Peter Obi, a businessman running under the third party Labour slate. A poll by Nigeria’s ANAP Foundation published on December 22 found Obi, 61, attracting 23 percent of respondents – low, but ten points higher than his closest rival, Tinubu. Abubakar received only ten percent support from respondents, who were asked who they would vote for if the election were held today.

Another 23 percent – the same number who supported Obi – said they preferred not to say whom they voted for, leaving pollsters with insufficient information as to who is leading.

Obi has made restoring security – defeating Boko Haram, its ISIS offshoot, and the jihadist Fulani “bandits” who routinely conduct massacres against Christians in northern Nigeria – and fixing the nation’s economy his priorities:

Fixing the economy and, in particular, the energy sector is a priority for Nigerians and potentially the country’s biggest challenge. While a major oil producer, the Nigerian government makes woefully little from extracting crude oil, a result of both corruption and criminal gangs building illegal offshoot pipelines and simply stealing the fuel. Nigeria has too little refining capacity to make money off of the crude oil it extracts and its infrastructure is collapsing, leading to a nationwide power grid collapse this summer.

Obi’s success will require the public to retain enough trust and enthusiasm for him through the election to offset the convoluted presidential election system. To become president of Nigeria, a candidate must win by both a simple majority of votes and receive more than 25 percent support in 24 of the nation’s 36 states. The failure of any candidate to do so results in a runoff election between the two top candidates – and that, too, is not decided by a simple majority. The candidate with a plurality of votes in the highest number of states wins.

Argentina

Like much of Latin America, Argentina has been stuck in a cycle of electing hardline socialists, tanking its economy, and replacing those socialists with “center-right” technocrats whose failures result in the election of another hardline socialist government. The coalition behind socialist President Alberto Fernández had planned to break the cycle by running Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (no relation), the current vice president and former president of the country – until December, when a court sentenced Fernández de Kirchner to six years in prison for corruption charges.

The meaning of the historic conviction remains to be seen, as the vice president has said she will fight the conviction on appeal, and the reelection of convicted felon Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva this year to the presidency of Brazil is a favorable precedent for her – but Fernández de Kirchner has said she is currently not expecting to run for president again in light of the ruling. Her absence leaves a major power void in the leftist establishment of the country, which could benefit the Argentine right.

Just who represents the Argentine right, however, remains a point of substantial dispute in the country. On one side is a center-right coalition known as Juntos por el Cambio (“Together for Change”), which includes Fernández’s predecessor, former President Mauricio Macri. On the other is the Libertarian Party, led largely by economist and Internet phenomenon Javier Milei, whose brand of libertarianism is stridently pro-Donald Trump, anti-China and doing business with communist states generally, and anti-politician. Milei first rose to prominence explaining the benefits of capitalist society and calling politicians “parasites” on television. In November 2021, Milei was elected to Congress on a wave of support for his anti-centrist, right-wing movement that viciously attacked the center-right establishment just as much as Fernández’s administration.

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