Entering 2024: The Biggest Election Year Ever
30 January 2024 /
2024 has just begun, and as titled by The Economist, we are entering what is labelled as the “biggest year of elections in history”. Over 4 billion people, so more than half the world’s population, will be called to express a voting preference; an unprecedented number so far.
This is not only the case for Europe, where its inhabitants will vote for the new legislators of the European Parliament in June. Citizens from over 20 countries in Europe, 16 in Africa, 11 in America, 11 in Asia, and 4 in Oceania will go to the polls. Considering just the national general elections, this will account for 41% of the Earth’s population and 50% of the entire global GDP.
It is worth noting that out of the 71 countries that will be called to the polls this year, only 43 will have free and fair democratic elections according to the standards set by Democracy Index. This includes the 27 states of the European Union, while around 28 countries outside the EU do not satisfy the basic conditions to refer to them as free and fair.
In Europe, in addition to the European Parliament elections, member states’ parliaments in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Lithuania, Portugal, and Romania will also be renewed. New presidents will be elected in Croatia, Finland, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia. Looking further east, elections are scheduled in Azerbaijan (presidential) and Belarus (parliamentary); in these two states, the results will not be a surprise, with the leadership unlikely to be upset. More interesting are the ones in Georgia (presidential/parliamentary), Moldova (presidential), and North Macedonia (presidential/parliamentary); here, the citizens will be called to confirm the pro-EU efforts of their current governments. Iceland will also have presidential elections scheduled in June.
The United Kingdom is supposed to go to the ballot box as well, but current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has the power to postpone them until the beginning of the next year. A lot will depend on how the campaign will be conducted. Currently, the Labour Party seems to have the lead over the Conservatives, of whom Sunak is part of. They might therefore ask for more time in order to relaunch their electoral strategy.
Further, elections are scheduled to be held in Russia and Ukraine, the two countries currently at war with each other.
For Russia, the result is already clear. The presidential elections on March 17 seem, for the 71-year-old Vladimir Putin, an open road to a fifth presidential mandate. This is made possible by the constitutional reform he orchestrated in 2020, which keeps the possibility of governing open for another 12 years. The citizens of the occupied territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, and Kherson are expected to also participate in the vote. The opposition to the current Kremlin leader appears rather tepid; dissenting candidacies, such as that of the 40-year-old journalist Yekaterina Duntsova, a voice publicly critical of the war in Ukraine, are rejected even before the campaigns are supposed to begin (state media has spoken of ‘errors in the documents introduced’). For the rest, Putin’s presidential race does not appear to have any kind of competition. Opposition leaders such as Alexey Navalny, who has just resurfaced in a penal colony in Siberia serving a long prison sentence, as well as other important critics of the Kremlin, are behind bars or outside the country due to the risk of being arrested.
As for the presidential elections in Ukraine, the incumbent president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not excluded holding elections, despite martial law in force for almost two years now prohibiting them. An election that takes place while vast areas of the country are under foreign occupation and millions of Ukrainians are displaced from their homes could never be truly representative. However, if the vote succeeds, it would be a demonstration of resistance to Russia’s attempts to crush Ukrainian independence. On the contrary, if there were irregularities, the elections would be a threat to Ukraine’s efforts to join the EU and to be recognized as a full democracy.
On the American continent, the vote on November 5th for the next leader in the White House dominates the scene. Further, the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be renewed. A second challenge lies between the outgoing president, the 82-year-old Joe Biden, aiming to become the oldest candidate to ever win the US elections, and his predecessor, Donald Trump. The theme of the electoral campaign towards November already appears clear and shows similarities to the last one four years ago: stop the 77-year-old Trump and his threat to democracy.
Mexico and El Salvador will also be called to vote for new presidents; in Mexico, for the first time ever, two women will run for the position. In El Salvador, the people will decide if they will confirm the rule of President Nayib Bukele and his controversial currency reform, which made Bitcoin a legal tender in the country.
Venezuela has elections scheduled for the second semester as well, but the rising tensions connected to the Essequibo region of the neighbouring Guyana might be used by Maduro to postpone them. The elections will in any case not be free, with a good deal of opposition members, mainly accused of alleged corruption, being sentenced to jail in December of last year.
It will be in this continent that the biggest elections will take place.
In April and May, the most populous democracy in the world will go to the vote, which, with its 1.4 billion inhabitants in 2023, overtook China in the ranking of the most populous country. The current conservative prime minister, Narendra Modi, is aiming for re-election with his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The themes vary a lot, with the state hoping to become one of the major geopolitical powers in the world. Many of the topics are centred around a new Indian narrative aiming to cancel any foreign influence. One example of this trend would be Modi’s idea to revive the ancient Sanskrit name of India, Bharat.
Some elections already took place, like in Bangladesh, where the current prime minister obtained a 5th consecutive mandate. But it was in Taiwan on January 13th that one of the most-awaited elections took place. The new President William Lai from the Progressive Democratic Party obtained the victory with 40.2% of the votes. The new leader reaffirmed his policy for the island’s independence, backed by its people’s choice. Beijing immediately reiterated that ‘reunification is inevitable’, despite the result of the elections. More caution was the feedback from the US and EU; Biden affirmed that he will not sustain Taiwan’s independence, but he welcomed the democratic unfolding of the election. In the EU, Borrell warned about the possible scenario of a declaration of independence by Taiwan, fearing an escalation of the crisis that may bring a destabilisation of the area.
Pakistan will vote as well. Here the campaign is mainly focused around its neighbour and main rival India, a focus accompanied by rising nationalism. The relations with China are also at the centre of the debate, which further fuel the country’s anti-India narrative and Beijing being concerned by the problems caused by the Taliban on the North-Western border.
South Africa is one of the countries in which crucial elections are scheduled for 2024. The socio-economic situation of the “rainbow nation” is complex, given that the unemployment rate is around 30%. The African National Congress (ANC), the party of the late Nelson Mandela which has been in power since the end of apartheid, is losing its power due to the opposition coalising against it. For the first time, it might occur that the ANC will not be able to win the elections or be the dominant force as they were used to.
Particular attention will also be paid to those West African states in which politics, in recent years, have been dominated by military interventions.
In July, there will be presidential elections in Burkina Faso and even before that, in February, in Mali, with the date not yet being confirmed. Both countries have suffered several coups. The most recent occurred in Burkina Faso in 2022, and brought to power the junta led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré.
Major presidential elections are also planned in Tunisia. Since Kais Saied, an expert on constitutional law, came to power, Tunisia has experienced a profound decline in human rights, both civil and social. On the 25th of July 2021, Saied initiated an authoritarian policy and succeeded in modifying the constitution by establishing a bicameral parliament. Opponents denounced Saied’s continued attempts to delegitimise the representation of local institutions and to centralise more and more decision-making powers at the executive level.
In conclusion, 2024 stands out as a historic year with unprecedented global elections involving over 4 billion people. From Europe’s diverse electoral landscape to the tense situations in Russia and Ukraine, and the pivotal races in the Americas, Asia and Africa, these elections carry far-reaching implications.
As we witness political shifts and confrontations, it becomes clear that the outcomes will shape not only the internal dynamics of nations but also the broader geopolitical landscape. Challenges such as foreign occupation and displaced populations underscore the delicate nature of true democratic expression in certain regions.
The interconnectedness of these events highlights the need for a vigilant international community committed to fostering democratic principles worldwide. The collective impact of billions of voters’ choices will echo beyond 2024, influencing the trajectory of nations and the global landscape.
(Edited by Luka Krauss)