2024 holds the title for election year records – more than 70 legislative and executive elections, eight of the ten most populous countries, and more than half the world’s population will vote. The biggest democracy (India), the oldest democracy (the US), the managed democracy (Russia), and upcoming democracies (Indonesia) are all part of the package. While domestic issues will no doubt occupy center stage, 2024 will see global trends impacting electoral outcomes and consequent policies in many parts of the globe.
These trends include:
- The Rise of Populist and Authoritarian Leaders
Across Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia, there is a notable shift towards or strengthening of populist, right-wing, or authoritarian leaders. In the EU, far-right parties are gaining ground. This trend can contribute to increased polarization and divisions within societies.
2. Superpower Rivalries
The geopolitical landscape is marked by intense rivalries, particularly the US-China and US-Russia narratives. This will play out in critical elections, such as those in Taiwan and Finland, where strategic alignments can significantly shape regional dynamics.
3. Election Year Protectionism
Amidst global conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, nations are embracing protectionist measures. Supply chain disruptions, including bans on critical exports, can impact economies worldwide.
4. Global Democratic Recession
2024 is a big year for democracy but several notable democracies have witnessed a decline in their rankings on the Democratic Index- a recession in democratic indices. Opposition crackdown, entrenching of the ruling elite and questioning of democratic election results/processes are likely to be prevalent.
2024 is Asia’s biggest election year, from almost all South Asian nations to Indonesia and critical Taiwan elections. But will anything change substantially? PM Modi is on course to win a third term, President Jokowi is grooming a political dynasty in Indonesia and the DPP’s hold remains strong in Taiwan.
South Asia is emerging as a microcosm of global trends. In Bangladesh, PM Sheikh Hasina was re-elected for a fourth consecutive term in an election that saw all foremost opposition leaders in jail and ban on critical outfits. Pakistan is expected to mirror these developments with the ex-PM and PTI leader, Imran Khan, disqualified from contesting. Elections have already been postponed from November 2023 to February 2024 – with the Supreme Court recently passing a non-binding resolution to delay elections further. Both countries’ economies are deteriorating, and protests, civil unrest, and political instability have been common factors.
Amidst these, India, with its robust economic growth and stronger standing in foreign affairs, presents an island of ‘relative openness’. However, there are unlikely to be any challenges to PM Modi’s incumbent BJP in elections scheduled for April and May – as the opposition gets sidelined in the Parliament and other institutions.
With an uncertain economic background, Sri Lanka is also scheduled to hold elections this year. In countries such as Sri Lanka and Maldives (that elected a President in 2023), the India vs China narrative is also likely to play in full force.
Taiwanese elections on 13th January were framed as a choice, in China’s words, between ‘peace and unity’ or forced reunification. Now, the Democratic Peoples’ Progressive Party (DPP) remains in power with its clear platform of Taiwan’s separate identity and rejection of China’s territorial claims. But there are caveats – the DPP has lost its majority in the unicameral legislature in which KMT – the pro-China party – is the largest party (though without a majority). Crucial questions, such as military spending, must be approved by the legislature. However, two things are clear: First, voters rejected the ‘1992 consensus’ with China, and second – Taiwan’s future course will be increasingly decided in Beijing and Washington. As an immediate impact, Nauru changed its diplomatic stance from Taipei to Beijing, perhaps indicative that with a more assertive China – Taiwan’s radical sovereignty stand may cause it to lose its few remaining democratic allies.
Divisions over policy toward China will also be salient in South Korea and Japan’s legislative elections this year, though less existential than Taiwan. In Indonesia, where the incumbent President, Joko Widodo, is at the end of his term and remains immensely popular, a political dynasty is being formed again. Indonesia has registered a 5% growth in the past few years with big-ticket reforms, FDI, and infrastructure investment. However, in a country with a relatively new transition to democracy, Jokowi’s grooming of his son to take over and legal machinations over his appointment as a running mate to Prabowo Subianto could entrench the political elite.
After a season of coups, democratic transitions/governance will be under the scanner in Africa in 2024. Chad, Mali, and South Sudan, which experienced coups and conflicts last year, have promised free and fair elections but with no clear timelines and plans. The evolving power game between the US, China, Russia, and European nations can also influence the power of incumbents and opposers in several countries.
The biggest risk to any political stability in Senegal was incumbent President Macky Sall refusing to step down after his legal tenure had ended and insisting on running for an additional term. But that risk was curbed in 2023 when he announced his intention to step down. While Senegal’s democracy is not known for its full fairness, it is the beacon of hope in an otherwise politically unstable Coup Belt.
In South Africa, on the other hand, the incumbent ruling party has lost fans, but like many other states, a solid opposition to challenging the African National Congress does not exist. So, against all odds of public opinion of the current Party, ANC is unlikely to be replaced by anyone else. While the economy is promising and its international standing has risen, voters still encounter basic infrastructure problems and high-level corruption. There are also high chances of a hung parliament, which can further curtail decision-making.
The themes and trends across America are as diverse as the culinary diversity in the region (which is a lot, contrary to popular belief). For Venezuela, it’s about preserving democracy. For El Salvador, it’s about ignoring any past or future violations of democracy to ensure that order and stability can endure and growth can reign. For Mexico, it’s about choosing a candidate who can help tackle the issues of drugs and poverty to ensure it remains on the growth path.
Crime is a pressing issue in South America, but in El Salvador, incumbent President Nayib Bukele has reduced crime rates and the influx of immigrants to the US has also come down. Despite the controversial mechanism adopted to achieve this success, Bukele’s popularity remains. So when the election bells ring in February, Bukele will likely stay comfortable in his Presidential seat.
The story differs in Venezuela, where oil wealth and democratic freedom have declined since the 1990s. Suffering from US sanctions and political instability after the 2019 Presidential Crisis, the 2024 election is being viewed as a chance to redeem its democracy. Candidate-wise, there’s a new kid on the block. Maria Machado is popular, having won 90% of the vote in the primaries, so any attempt by Maduro to block her candidature would not be well appreciated, despite the knowledge that a contest between Maduro and Machado would lean in favour of the latter.
This year’s most consequential elections will probably be the United States – especially if it turns out to be a Trump/Biden rematch. Trump remains the ‘trump card’ in the sense of his personalized decision-making, raising questions on the continuation of Ukrainian aid, the US stand on Gaza, the trade war with China, and security and economic relationships with US allies. In a time of escalating conflicts and superpower rivalries, Trump’s style introduces an unpredictable element that can add to global risk.
However, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’ and a lot can happen between now and the November elections. Trump may be barred from contesting elections, a credible Republican challenger may emerge, or Trump gets to power but is rapidly “incapacitated.” It may be time to start thinking of other candidates and scenarios.
Regardless of the victor, the emerging global context may put restrictions on policy maneuvers. Global stands may not be very different – the US is firmly on Israel’s side, China needs to be contained, and interest in the Ukraine war is waning. Of course, domestically, there could be wide divergences over abortion rights, climate change, and right-wing groups – but how far will they impact foreign policy?
A consistent move to the right of the political-ideological spectrum, dissatisfaction with current governments, the cost of living crisis across European and British economies, and anti-immigration sentiment and policies are expected to occupy the top spots amongst voters’ concerns in 2024.
Amidst the increasing de-risking narrative regarding China, Europe has been seeing a shift closer to the far-right in its politics to protect all things local. The victory of Geert Wilder’s anti-Islam far-right party in the House of Representatives indicated the political inclination to take over Europe, especially after Brexit. Eurosceptic MEPs now believe they can exert far-right pressure from within the Parliament to ensure state sovereignty and autonomy.
For countries like Finland, which shares a border with Russia, security and regional/international cooperation through organizations such as the EU and NATO are at the top of the political campaign. But another concern is economic decline. Consequently, support is high for conservative economic policies to minimise the sort of economic decline that the rest of the continent is experiencing. In Germany, farmers have taken to protesting against subsidy cuts, and sympathy is running high across neighbouring countries. In effect, increasing right-wing sentiment across the continent and expression of domestic discontent could see the rise of right-wing leaders in positions of power.
An election will also occur in the UK- this time on purpose, as opposed to the roulette of Conservative leadership in 2022. Viewed as ‘exhausted’ from leading and ‘out-of-touch’ by many, the quest for the Conservatives to hold onto office will not be easy. Primary issues atop British voters’ minds are the rising cost of living and immigration and asylum seekers, much like the EU member states.