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Global Election Round-Up: September 2022

Global Election Round-Up: September 2022

A pair of August elections in Africa produced clear winners, while also sending mixed messages about the strength of each country’s democracy. Meanwhile, two contests in Europe provide potential inroads for right-wing parties.


In Kenya’s August 9 election, Deputy President William Ruto defeated opposition leader Raila Odinga by approximately 233,000 votes, 51–49 percent. 65 percent of registered voters turned out, down from 80 percent in 2017 — and a 15-year low.

Ruto fashioned himself as an anti-establishment “hustler” on the campaign trail, in a populist appeal to Kenya’s disaffected young population. While Ruto is, in reality, an immensely wealthy politician, this outsider branding contrasted him against Odinga (a five-time presidential candidate, former prime minister, and son of Kenya’s first vice president) as well as Odinga’s A-list stump speaker, Uhuru Kenyatta (the outgoing president and son of Kenya’s first president).  

Political dynamics between Kenya’s ethnic groups also played a role. Odinga had hoped to leverage Kenyatta’s influence as an ethnic Kikuyu to gain the backing of Kikuyu voters, the largest bloc in the country. But Odinga is an ethnic Luo, a rival group to the Kikuyu. This derailed Odinga’s plan, as the Kikuyu vote split partially for Ruto, an ethnic Kalenjin, further expanding the deputy president’s base of support. 

This shift in sentiment was partially captured in pre-election polling. On top of the tight topline margins, surveys taken a week before the vote even showed Odinga with a slight lead.

The days following the election, though tense, were markedly less turbulent than the aftermath of other recent contests. In the wake of the 2007 campaign, violence escalated into a months-long ethnic conflict that claimed over a thousand lives. Unrest and frustration erupted again in 2017, when the initial election was annulled and a redo was ordered. But this year, when the Kenyan Supreme Court found no credible evidence of election tampering following a challenge from Odinga, the opposition leader accepted the court’s decision. 

Although there are still concerns about Ruto’s checkered past on human rights, the results of Kenya’s election are, in some ways, an encouraging step for the country. Kenyatta has already promised a smooth transition of power. What’s more, the decisiveness of the court’s ruling could also restore some faith in the functionality, transparency, and independence of Kenya’s democratic institutions.


Two weeks after Kenyans took to the polls, so too did voters in Angola, a country whose democratic norms are comparatively younger and weaker. For that reason, it can be difficult to draw direct comparisons between the two elections.

The August 24 vote saw President João Lourenço secure a second term after his party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), defeated the main opposition, Adalberto Costa Júnior and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), 51–44 percent. 

The 7-point margin makes this one of the closest elections in Angola’s history and marks a record-low showing for the MPLA, which has been in power since the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975. Notably, the party’s vote share has steadily declined in all four post-civil war elections: it received 82 percent in 2008, 72 percent in 2012, and 61 percent in 2017. 

Most recently, the MPLA’s popularity has waned due to economic concerns and dissatisfaction with Lourenço’s handling of corruption. Indeed, pre-election polling painted a tight race, as young voters in particular seemed to move toward UNITA. Surveys taken throughout the summer varied widely, suggesting everything from a 29-point MPLA win to a 26-point UNITA win, often with large shares of respondents not selecting either party.

Overall, the MPLA’s majority in the 220-seat National Assembly fell by 26 seats to 124. UNITA picked up 39 seats, bringing its total to 90. Three other parties — the Social Renewal Party (PRS), the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), and the Humanist Party of Angola (PHA) — each won two seats. Voter turnout was recorded at 45 percent, down from 76 percent in 2017.

The final results were contested by UNITA, who alleged irregularities in the vote count, but their challenge was swiftly struck down by Angola’s constitutional court. Four of the 16 members of the Angolan National Electoral Commission also refused to sign off on the returns.

Challenges to election results — and concerns over vote tampering — are neither unwarranted nor uncommon in Angola. The ruthless rule of former President José Eduardo dos Santos, Lourenço’s predecessor and Angola’s autocratic leader of 38 years, was defined by the suppression of basic freedoms and the violation of human rights. 

Although dos Santos left office in 2017 and died in July, Angola today remains far from free. The MPLA still has a large amount of control over the electoral process and state media. When it comes to political and civil liberties, Freedom House gives the country a rating of 30 out of 100; Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index scores it one point lower at 29. 

Sweden and Italy

Looking ahead, there are two major European elections in September.

Sweden voted on September 11.

The Social Democrats, led by Magdalena Andersson after the resignation of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven last summer, were looking to maintain control in the Riksdag. Entering the home stretch, pre-election polls showed the Social Democrats ahead by an average of 9 points in a close contest with the conservative Moderate Party, led by Ulf Kristersson, as well as the far-right Sweden Democrats, led by Jimmie Åkesson. In the 2018 election, the Social Democrats outperformed polling expectations by 4 points to win with a 28 percent plurality — the party’s worst electoral showing in over a century.

The election is still too close to call, as of September 12.  With approximately 95 percent of votes counted, the Social Democrats led with 31 percent, the Sweden Democrats earned 21 percent, and the Moderates had 19 percent. This means that no bloc currently possesses an obvious governing majority of 175 seats: the parties supporting the Moderates won a total of 175 seats, while the parties supporting the Social Democrats won 174 seats.

Italy votes on September 25.

Following a falling-out with the left-populist Five Star Movement, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s unity government collapsed last month, prompting September’s snap elections. The current polling leader is Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing Brothers of Italy, which appears to have enough support from other parties to govern if victorious. Enrico Letta’s center-left Democratic Party is polling in second. Letta would likely continue the current government’s policies, but a right-wing coalition would almost surely ditch Draghi’s direction.

A full summary of both contests will appear in October’s election round-up.