The Week Ahead: 21-27 May

The Week Ahead: 21-27 May

Colombian presidential elections threaten political system. Irish referendum divides country. Barbados goes to the polls. All in The Week Ahead.

COLOMBIA: Presidential election threatens to whipsaw the political system

  • This Sunday, Colombian voters will vote in the first round to determine the successor to President Juan Manuel Santos. Santos’ chief legacy, the peace agreement between the FARC and the government, could be at risk; the leading candidate in the polls Ivan Duque has sharply criticized the agreement and may propose substantial changes should he be elected.
  • With support from former President Uribe and concerns over the situation in Venezuela, Colombian voters appear to be increasingly tilting toward the right in determining Santos’ successor. Duque’s likely opponent, Gustavo Petro, hails from the other end of the spectrum: as a mayor of Bogotá and former Marxist guerrilla, he pushed for left-wing policies. Despite Duque’s apparent lead in the polls, there is a decided room for error given Colombia’s previous polling mishaps (prior to the FARC peace deal referendum, polling showed the Yes side prevailing by 30 points, while on Election Day the referendum lost by about 1 percent).

GRI Take: It appears unlikely that either candidate will receive 50% of the vote, setting up a likely mid-June runoff.

IRELAND: Abortion referendum splits country

  • This Friday, voters in the Republic of Ireland will determine whether to repeal the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution, which both severely restricts abortion access and limits the ability of the Irish government to change abortion laws. Ireland’s abortion laws are the second-most restrictive in the European Union (Malta bans all abortion), limiting abortion only in the case of the life of the mother. This has led many Irish women to travel to the United Kingdom to seek abortions (although not Northern Ireland, which also has severe abortion restrictions).
  • The idea of repealing Ireland’s abortion restrictions would have been unthinkable, given the sway of the Catholic Church in Irish public life. However, the ability of the Church to determine public opinion has been on the decline, as revealed by the successful 2015 Irish referendum that extended gay marriage rights to Ireland on a 62-38% vote. Recent polling has placed the Yes vote ahead (one poll last week put support at 44% for and 32% against), and while the margin appears relatively wild, there is a substantial portion of undecided voters and a “quiet No” vote is possible.

GRI Take: Should Ireland vote Yes in the referendum, and move Ireland more closely in the mainstream of Europe’s abortion laws, one indirect consequence is this could place Northern Ireland in an awkward position: Northern Ireland has historically maintained much more conservative abortion laws than the rest of the UK, but this was buttressed by similarly conservative laws in the Republic of Ireland. If Ireland votes in favor, this may encourage Northern Irish women to travel to the Republic of Ireland to procure abortions (they have also travelled to England and Scotland to get abortions) and may pressure Northern Ireland to change its own laws.

BARBADOS: First female prime minister may be elected

  • This Thursday, the small Caribbean island Commonwealth nation of Barbados (with approximately 250,000 citizens) will head to the polls for its first parliamentary vote since 2013. The 30-member House of Assembly, and a portion of the upper chamber Senate will be up, and given the narrow 16-14 Democratic Labor Party (DLP) majority Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will have a difficult time maintaining his party’s position in government.
  • In addition to trying to seek a third term for his party, last week one of Barbados’ largest trade union, the Barbados Workers Union, strongly criticized the Freundel government for its taxation and education policies, high unemployment, transportation problems, healthcare costs, and sewage buildups. Freundel’s government also suffered an embarrassing setback when the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that the Barbados Electoral and Boundaries Commission had erred in not granting certain long-term Commonwealth residents in Barbados the opportunity to vote, and ruled that they must be permitted to do so. The Barbados Labour Party (BLP), and its leader Mia Mottley, may reap the benefit of the combination of political discord and disaffection with the ruling DLP, though with scant public polling heading into the election, it is uncertain how the election will go.

GRI Take: Should the BLP emerge victorious, not only will Mia Mottley become Barbados’ first female prime minister and her party take control of the lower house, but her ability to appoint members to the Senate (12 of the 21 senators are appointed by the Governor General at the discretion of the prime minister) will ensure the upper chamber will flip political parties too.

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