2024: The Year of Elections

Foreign Policy Brief #123 | By: Ibrahim Castro| February 26, 2024
Featured Photo taken from: www.ie.edu

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The year 2024 will be a record breaking year for elections around the world. More than 50 countries that are home to half the planet’s population are all due to hold their national elections this year. However, just because elections are set to be held is not in and of itself good news. The past few years have seen a strong resurgence of the far-right and authoritarian leaders in numerous countries. In certain countries, voting will be neither free nor fair. In many, bans on opposition candidates, distrustful electorates and the potential for manipulation and disinformation may sway outcomes or enable anti-democratic candidates. This year’s elections will test whether democracy globally will continue its trend of backsliding or whether a renewed push for democratic freedoms will take hold.

Some of the elections already held:

Bangladesh: Elections for the South Asian nation were held on January 7th. Bangladesh, home to 170 million people, was the first country in South Asia this year to head to the polls. But turnout was low, with only 40% of approximately 120 million eligible voters taking part. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured a fourth consecutive term in office. Human rights organizations have warned that Hasina and her government are headed towards a one-party system, as critics expressed concerns over increased reports of political violence and voter intimidation.

El Salvador: On February 4th, El Salvador’s president who calls himself the ‘world’s coolest dictator’ scored the second largest election win in the country’s history. El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele suspended civil liberties to conduct a sweeping crackdown on gang violence which proved popular with voters. Bukele is now El Salvador’s first reelected president. His party’s majority in congress and a court they stacked allowed him to dodge a constitutional ban on presidents running for a second term.

Comoros: In the small Indian ocean nation of Comoros, President Azali Assoumani was  re-elected for a fourth term in a poll disputed by the opposition as “fraudulent”. He secured the win with 63% of the vote, according to the country’s electoral body. However,  turnout was low amid an opposition boycott, only 16% of people voted in the presidential election. After the results were announced, security forces clashed with protesters in several parts of the capital, Moroni.

Finland: On February 11, Alexander Stubb of the center-right National Coalition Party narrowly won Finland’s presidential election on Sunday, defeating liberal Green Party member Pekka Haavisto. Stubb is pro-European and a strong supporter of Ukraine who has taken a tough stance against Russia. The vote marks a new era in Finland, which for decades had elected presidents to foster diplomacy, and now instead opted not to join military alliances such as with NATO.

Elections with global impact:

United States: It should come as no surprise that the Presidential and Congressional elections in the US are some of the most highly observed in the world. On November 8, 2024, the results of US elections will affect the world and the direction of many conflicts, negotiations, business dealings, the future state of the climate, and more. Conflicts like the war in Ukraine and war in Gaza will have profound impacts depending on who wins the 2024 election. Relationships with traditional allies could also be strained by a possible second Trump presidency, along with the US’ credibility and perception as a reliable partner has already been damaged, and of course in an increasingly polarized and militarized world there is the possibility of either candidate inflaming tensions with different adversarial states. The US elections will have profound impacts on the future of the international system. We will have to wait and see whether it will be a continuation of the current administration’s policies or a return to Trumpism.

India: In India, which is often called the world’s largest experiment in democracy, voters are expected to head to the polls at a still undisclosed date between April-May 2024. India which has a population of over 1.4 billion is likely to see a majority of its voters reelect Prime Minister Narendra Modi to secure a rare third term in power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of enabling democratic backsliding since 2016. Modi throughout his tenure in office has been accused of cracking down on opponents, restricting press freedom and persecuting the country’s Muslim and other ethnic and religious minorities. Facing off against Modi is a newly formed alliance of 26 political parties known as INDIA, which includes the country’s main opposition, the Indian National Congress.

EU Elections:  Far-right parties are becoming increasingly dominant in national settings across many EU capitals. The June 2024 European Parliament elections will likely see a major shift to the right in many countries, with populist radical right parties gaining votes across the EU. Many center-left and green parties will likely lose votes and seats. Anti-European Union populists are likely to top the polls in nine member states (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Slovakia). Much of the shift to the right can be attributed to rising anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent. EU elections will shape the bloc’s approach to climate policy, aid to Ukraine, and the bloc’s ability to work and stay united.

Russia: On Friday March 15, 2024, Russia will hold its presidential elections, yet of course, there is already little doubt as to who will emerge the winner from these elections. The upcoming Russian elections are more of a spectacle than serious competition for the future of the country. It’s likely Russia’s current policies will continue on in another Putin administration. Vladimir Putin, should he win again, and serve a full six year term, will have been in power for 30 years total. This will be longer than any Russian or Soviet leader since Tsar Peter the Great (who died in 1721). Until recently, Russia’s constitution forbade more than two consecutive six year presidential terms. Though this is a constitutional rule that appears not to apply to the current occupant of the Kremlin. Putin’s main rival, opposition leader Alexei Navalny mysteriously died in prison late last week. Another of Russia’s presidential hopefuls, Boris Nadezhdin, has said his bid to run in elections in March has been blocked. Nadezhdin, is a prominent critic of the war in Ukraine and is not thought to be a likely challenger to unseat Putin.

Analysis

Democracy, the value and idea that human beings have the right to choose their own leaders is a much newer concept than many of us realize. Only about half of the world’s countries are electoral democracies, meaning that they hold free and fair multi-party elections. Of those countries, just 14 have been democracies for 100 or more years. The upcoming elections globally will present to us whether democracy can continue to endure through the current rise of extremism, violence, and polarization globally. Democracies often fall short of their promised ideals, but it is thus far in human history the only system that allows us a voice and the ability to learn and do better if we choose to do so.

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