By Yasmin Turner, MSc International Development
This year more than 40 countries, representing over 40% of the world’s population, will be holding national elections. Labelled by many as a “Super Bowl”, it is a record-breaking election year, with the ballot box battles poised to incur geopolitical and economic impacts around the world.
From the United Kingdom to India, Russia to Taiwan, the presidential contests will have large implications for economies, human rights, international relations and the likelihood of peace in an already unstable setting.
In some countries, the balloting will be free and open, while in others, limitations on opposition candidates and the potential for manipulation of results will threaten democracy.
There’s one thing for certain: a rerun between President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump for the Presidency of the United States looms large in the autumn election calendar. With the US involved in military assistance, funding and/or sourcing army personnel to so many areas of the world, including Ukraine and Gaza, a Trump victory is a large global wildcard.
The possibility of the Republican Trump returning to office, with his “America First” foreign policy agenda, adds additional uncertainty. The fate of the Russia-Ukraine war also, arguably, depends on the outcome of the election, with fears that he would not push for negotiations that favour the Ukrainian population.
Defiance in Taiwan
The first election of 2024 took place in Taiwan on January 13th, with China’s least preferred candidate, Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), winning the highly pressured vote.
Whilst Lai has not indicated a desire to declare Taiwan’s independence, the presidential win is expected to heighten cross-strait tensions. Prior to the win, Beijing described the elections as a choice between war and peace. With Lai’s promises to strengthen Taiwan’s defences, Beijing vowed that the win “will not impede the inevitable trend of China’s reunification.”
Tunisian President Kais Saied will seek re-election in November, an election likely to be guided by questions about migration and the country’s economic crisis. Tunisia, a country in the Maghreb region, was previously praised as being the only genuine, successful democracy to follow the upheaval of the Arab Spring.
However, on July 25th 2021, Saied sacked the government, freezing parliament before dissolving it entirely and pushing through a new constitution, which granted him almost unlimited authority.
In January 2023, only 11.3% of Tunisia’s nearly eight million eligible voters turned out for parliamentary elections in a rejection of Saied’s reforms.
It is expected that Saied will be re-elected, given his almost absolute power and his leading opposition candidate Rached Ghannouchi currently serving time in jail on charges which observers say are politically motivated. This may result in public discontent and further strikes and protests across the nation.
India, the world’s most populous country, is due to hold an election by mid-2024. The results are likely to bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a third consecutive term.
Modi’s supporters see him as an outsider in the political landscape, who has cleaned up after decades of corruption and established India as an emerging global power. His critics say attacks on the press, free speech, and religious minorities have only become more rampant since his leadership.
There is little doubt about who will win Russia’s election in March. President Vladimir Putin faces re-election for a fifth term, having already been in power for 24 years. Recently a Russian politician, former regional legislator Yekaterina Duntsova, was disqualified from running for president after calling for peace in Ukraine.
Populist power in Europe
Throughout 2023, following the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions, along with migration concerns and inflation taking a grip around the world, there seems to be a shift in Europe to the Right, with the rise of right-wing coalitions with far-right parties. This could be a continuing trend in 2024, with implications for human rights laws and protections.
Federal elections are due to be held in Belgium on June 9th with the country’s far-right Vlaams Belang party, directly translating to ‘Flemish Interest’, as the biggest current political force. There has been a clear increase in support for the far-right, anti-immigration party, which comes in response to an increase in concern for migration amongst voters in Flanders.
A far-right surge in the region, to match that of the neighbouring Netherlands, remains a highly possible scenario. Geert Wilders led a surprise victory with his anti-EU party in the Dutch elections in November 2023.
Will 2024 mark the end of Tory power?
A question sure to be asked again and again this year is whether 2024 will mark the end of the Conservative’s 14-year residence at 10 Downing Street. It appears increasingly likely, with the centre-left Labour Party and its current leader and former humanitarian lawyer, Sir Keir Starmer firmly ahead in the opinion polls. Expectations for a Labour leadership largely include a ‘fresh start’ and an improvement in public services, as well as a repeal of the controversial Rwanda policy.