10 Countries to Watch in 2018

The following countries are among those that may be approaching important turning points in their democratic trajectory, according to the latest Freedom in the World report.

The following countries are among those that may be approaching important turning points in their democratic trajectory, according to the latest Freedom in the World report.


Opposition alliances are crystallizing ahead of long-overdue parliamentary elections, but preparations for the polls have been lacking, and it is uncertain whether they will be held as planned in 2018.



Newly elected president João Lourenço moved to weaken the control of his predecessor’s family in 2017, but it remains to be seen whether he will make a serious effort to stem endemic corruption or ease restrictions on politics, the media, and civil society.


The ruling Georgian Dream party recently pushed through constitutional amendments that—combined with the financial backing of its reclusive billionaire patron—will make an effective challenge by the fractured opposition in future elections even more unlikely, potentially cementing the party’s control for years to come.


Improved security has helped create space for competition among newly registered parties and candidates ahead of the 2018 elections, which will test the resilience of the country’s political system.


A democratically elected, ethnically inclusive government is seeking to root out corruption and other systemic abuses that grew worse under its scandal-plagued predecessor, and it could even resolve the lingering “name dispute” with Greece that has impeded the country’s path toward EU membership.


The July 2018 general elections will serve as a referendum on an administration that has failed to curb rampant violence and corruption, and has become increasingly hostile toward independent media and civil society activists.  

Saudi Arabia

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s controversial reform program is likely to cause even more upheaval in Saudi government and society, as small gains in social freedoms and efforts to attract foreign investors go hand in hand with attempts to quash dissent and fight off perceived opponents. 

South Africa

Under a new leadership elected in December, the ruling African National Congress will be under pressure to clean up its image—which has been sullied by corrupt former party leader and outgoing national president Jacob Zuma—ahead of general elections in 2019. 

United States

The media and the judiciary—both of which have a long history of independence—face acute pressure from the Trump administration, whose smears threaten to undermine their legitimacy.


The new government has taken tentative steps toward greater openness and international engagement, but lasting change in one of the world’s most repressive political systems will require sustained international attention as well as support for independent voices in the country’s media and civil society.