In Depth

What’s going to happen in 2018?

Another memorable year is behind us - here’s what lies ahead

The tail end of the Syrian Civil War and the battle against Islamic State, the first year of Donald Trump’s contentious presidency, the Rohingya crisis and Pyongyang’s increasingly bold nuclear tests - all have contributed to making 2017 a memorable year in world affairs.

But as 2017 draws to a close and thoughts turn to 2018, what can we expect to see next on the global stage? Here are four developments to look out for in 2018:

Polling power

Analysts will have to wait until November for the US’s most anticipated political event of the year: the midterms, when voters elect Congress representatives and state officials. The 2018 vote is widely perceived as a referendum on Trump.

The commander-in-chief’s chaotic administration has fuelled Democrat momentum, but the party faces an uphill battle thanks to electoral districts that favour the Republican Party, “due in part to gerrymandering and in part to geography”, says Vox.

However, that could all change if the Democrats tilt the balance in their favour at the state level in November. In 2021, electoral districts are set to be redrawn, a task that falls to state legislatures in the majority of cases - making it crucial to get a majority.

The US midterms aren’t the only elections to watch in the coming year. In October, the focus will be on the Brazilian presidential race and outspoken nationalist Jair Bolsonaro. Can he ride the tide of conservatism that swept Latin America in 2017? The hard-right populist “openly supports torture”, opposes gay rights and once told a female politician, “I wouldn’t rape you because you’re not worthy of it”, says News.com.au.

Ukraine back in the spotlight

With the Syrian Civil War, the battle against Islamic State, and mounting tensions with North Korea, the conflict in east Ukraine all but disappeared from headlines in 2017 - but that doesn’t mean it went away.

“There’s not been one day since April 2014 where there’s not been fighting in Ukraine,”  the former US ambassador to Ukraine, John E. Herbst, told Newsweek. As of November 2017, a total of more than 2,500 civilians had been killed by mines, mortar shells, IEDs and gunfire, according the UN.

However, with a Russian presidential election on the way, 2018 could see some progress in the stand-off between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatist rebels.

Putin is all but certain to be re-elected as president in March, and will then have a few months to decide whether to change course in Ukraine, before EU sanctions against Russia come up for reconsideration in July. There are signs he may do just that.

In September, Putin outlined the terms under which a theoretical UN peacekeeping mission to eastern Ukraine would be acceptable to Moscow. Although the vision was limited, it nonetheless signalled a willingness to de-escalate the conflict.

“If there is a play that allows Putin to save face in withdrawal, and gives him relief from the Western sanctions that are taking a toll on the Russian public, Putin may see an opportunity, in 2018, to take it,” writes Justin Ling on OpenCanada.

Corbyn for PM?

With Theresa May bogged down in Brexit negotiations and reeling from the results of her June snap election, a general election next year may seem unlikely, but rumours about the possibility of a speedy return to the polls have been quietly spreading for some time.

Last month, Morgan Stanley economists wrote that the financial services giant considered it “likely” that Brexit would topple May’s minority government within the next year.

Fortune magazine includes Corbyn’s ascendency to 10 Downing Street on its list of predictions for 2018, foreseeing that “a snowballing sexual harassment scandal in Parliament and divisions over Brexit” will bring down the current government.

The magazine also predicts a pushback from the stock markets as Corbyn reshapes May’s vision for Brexit, “hoping to create a socialist paradise outside the ‘neo-liberal’ EU’s single market”.

That scenario might sound like Corbynista wishful thinking, but hard-nosed high-street bookmakers are taking it seriously: Paddy Power and William Hill have both slashed their odds on a 2018 general election.

Bitcoin boom

Cryptocurrency market leader bitcoin made the headlines this year when the price for a unit of the digital currency - practically worthless just a few years ago - flirted with the $20,000 mark.

Dave Chapman, managing director of cryptocurrency trading firm Octagon Strategy, told CNBC that he “wouldn’t be surprised to see a six-figure headline” before the end of 2018. But others warn it is a bubbly in a frothy market. Can both sides be right?

Digital currencies such as bitcoin will act as “digital gold” by the end of 2018, according to banker Eugene Etsebeth, who suggests that the coming 12 months will see the world’s central banks begin adding cryptocurrency to their reserves.

Wired’s Scott Rosenberg agrees, saying that 2018 will be “the year of the cryptocurrency craze”. However, he adds, it must also be the year that we start to understand the limitations of this new form of transaction, starting with the fact that it is not a replacement for traditional hard cash.

“Each transaction takes too long, uses too much energy, and involves too many risks,” particularly when it comes to the third-party platforms needed to make the complex process of buying and holding bitcoins accessible to the lay investor, Rosenberg writes.

Even assuming that warnings about bitcoin prove unfounded, “the real test for cryptocurrencies, next year and beyond, will be whether they can evolve to be more efficient”.

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