Elections That Will Shape Global Politics -Abu Tahir Mustakim
Who says democracy is dying? More than half of the world’s population will vote in national elections in more than 70 countries this year. Never before have so many countries in the world gone to the polls in the same year. From that point of view, the year is going to be a milestone. Casting votes will take place in countries, some of which are powerful and wealthy and some of which are weak. Some elections will be open, free, and fair, many less so. Some will not be free at all.
This vote will be from Britain to Bangladesh and from India to Indonesia. This event can be a great occasion for democracy-loving people. However, there is a chance that a significant portion of what democratic elections mean will not be accurate. The outcomes, taken separately and together, will help determine who controls and directs the 21st-century world.
It would not be wrong to express such fears: through the many elections held this year, only illiberal rulers can take root in the countries; in other elections, the fate of the corrupt and incompetent will bloom. Even in what is expected to be the most important race ever, the US presidential election will be toxic and divisive. These negative issues will influence the election so much that it will undoubtedly shake world politics. This could lead to a change in the US position on the Middle East countries from the conflict-ridden Ukraine. Even the global order that American leadership has so long championed may be at risk. That is, in the new year, the nervous pressure will increase on the one hand, while on the other, it will be dangerous.
Most of the ballots will be cast in Asia this year. The continent’s largest democracies—India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia—are all going to the polls this year. Here, too, the dangers of liberalism are unfortunately growing. On the one hand, India has achieved significant economic and political success under Narendra Modi. On the other hand, the Prime Minister’s radical anti-Muslim views and crushing of various institutions to protect democracy are not important in the eyes of Indians.
And this spring’s general election in India, the world’s most populous democracy, is no foregone conclusion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hopes of a third term could be frustrated by a new, 28-party opposition coalition called the INDIA—Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party dominates in north and central India, while Modi himself is viewed as an electoral superstar, unlike Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party. Yet his unattractive, autocratic tendencies, reflected in curbs on independent journalism, mysterious deaths of opponents abroad, and the brutal army crackdown in Kashmir, will raise doubts about the poll’s fairness. A surprise Modi defeat could have strategic ramifications, hurting US attempts to woo India as an ally and counterweight to China.
Bangladesh has already turned towards authoritarianism. Opposition leaders are jailed there, and dissent is not tolerated. Bangladesh’s largest opposition party and coalition boycotted the disputed election on January 7, citing vote rigging. There, the ruling Awami League formed the government for the fourth consecutive term.
Pakistan has been cracking down on the opposition, including the jailing of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. As a result, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which leads the current ruling coalition, is in an advantageous position in the elections to be held on February 8. Repression has weakened well-liked opposition parties in Bangladesh and Pakistan, so a victory for the ruling parties might spark fresh political tensions.
The African continent will have the largest number of elections this year. But voters there are becoming increasingly disillusioned with how democracy works. Military coups have become a common occurrence on the continent. Since 2020, military governments have seized power in nine countries. Opinion polls suggest that more African countries may be willing to go under military rule in the coming days.
Another seismic prospect, in terms of potential political earthquakes, is South Africa’s general election. For the first time since Nelson Mandela walked to freedom and the apartheid era ended 30 years ago in 1994, the ANC could lose its overall majority, undercut by challengers such as the Democratic Alliance.
Odds are that the ANC, in possible coalition with the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters, will cling to power. Voters are likely to punish the party for years of egregious corruption, leadership scandals, high crime and unemployment rates, and its inability to maintain the lights—daily power outages lasting up to six hours have become commonplace. A low turnout could seal the ANC’s fate.
Disillusion with democracy is a much-discussed issue across all of Africa, the world’s fastest-growing continent, as it is elsewhere. This month, Comfort Ero and Murithi Mutiga of the International Crisis Group noted that seven African leaders had fallen due to their militaries between August 2020 and November 2023. These were among 13 successful coups in Africa since 2000, mainly in a “belt of instability” stretching from Niger to Sudan. Not all the leaders overthrown were popularly elected.
While all coups are essentially anti-democratic, they have multiple causes. These include abuse of power, economic woes, corruption, Islamist insurgencies, rigged elections, and personal rivalries. But it is clear that, far from being unwelcome, some recent coups, such as that in Mali in 2021, enjoyed substantial public support. Violent regime change was better, it seems, than no regime change at all.
Most Africans “still have faith in democracy, yet they have been desperate to rid themselves of regimes that purport to be democratic but often fail to deliver on democracy’s most basic promises,” Ero and Mutiga wrote. This conclusion surely has universal relevance. Meanwhile, the democracy show rolls on. Algeria, Tunisia, Ghana, Rwanda, Namibia, Mozambique, Senegal, Togo, and South Sudan are among the African countries holding elections in 2024.
Some elections will be downright bad. For example, in Belarus or Rwanda, the only question is how close to 100 percent the incumbent’s vote will be. Lukashenko has been the president of Belarus since 1994. In 2004, he dropped the constitutional provision that the president not serve more than two terms.
Although the provision was reinstated in the Constitution in 2022, it applies only to a new president.
Paul Kagame has been president of Rwanda since 2000. The term of the president there is seven years. The constitution barred any president from serving more than two terms. Kagame removed the constitutional hurdle in 2015. Now he is preparing to rule the country for another decade.
Russia also had a law: no person could be president for more than two terms. In 2020, Vladimir Putin illegally changed the constitution to remove presidential term limits. There is now little doubt that Vladimir Putin will be inaugurated this year for a third consecutive term as president of Russia and fifth overall.
There is certainly some good news in such a disappointment all around. Mexico is set to elect its first female president in 2024. In the election of the second week of June, the two main rivals are women. They are less populist than the ruling party.
British voters are finally getting the opportunity to choose one of the two eligible candidates. The Labor Party has been likely to win after conservative rule for 14 years. However, no one outside Britain will find this change. In the UK, the problem is slightly different. Despite priding itself on a long democratic tradition, Britain has endured two unelected Conservative prime ministers in little more than a year. Bizarrely, it’s not certain the next UK general election will be held in 2024 at all.
Changed or not, Europe will see elections in 2024 in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, and Finland, as well as for the European Parliament in June. The pervasive fear is that they will produce more advances by nationalist-populist, anti-migrant, xenophobic parties of the far right, matching those seen recently in Italy, the Netherlands, and Slovakia.
There are elections this year in some nations, and their effects will extend beyond those nations’ borders. Whether Taiwan’s 18 million voters choose betweenthe ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the Kuomintang (KMT), the pro-China opposition will have ramifications for cross-strait relations. As a result, the level of US-China tension will also be affected. A KMT victory may reduce the risk of conflict in the region in the short term. But in the medium term, this complacency on the part of Taiwan could increase the risk of Chinese aggression at some point. Eventually, it could lead to a clash between the great powers.
Surveys indicate dissatisfaction with the present-day workings of democracy is a sentiment common throughout the nations of the West—meaning, principally, the US and Europe—even though they see themselves as democracy’s home ground. As in Africa, democracy itself is not the problem. It’s the way it is applied and practiced. A recent Ipsos opinion poll in Western countries found a widespread belief that current democratic systems favor the rich and powerful and ignore everyone else.
Around seven in 10 Americans said the state of democracy had declined in recent years, while 73% in France agreed. More than six in 10 people in the UK believed democracy was working less well than five years ago, according to the poll. Respondents in all but one of the countries surveyed, which also included Croatia, Italy, Poland, and Sweden, agreed “radical change” was needed.
No other election can be compared to the US election in terms of possible outcomes. The election is going to be between two old men, neither of whom is the preferred candidate of most American voters. The majority of voters want no party to field their candidate.
Donald Trump’s candidature is an affront to American democracy. The Republican Party is going to run for president against a man who tried to overturn the results of the last presidential election. It dims America’s role as a beacon of democracy. He especially likes people like Putin. And his announcement to end the Russia-Ukraine war within 24 hours indicates that he will sacrifice Ukraine. According to some, Trump may not even get the nomination, and even if he does, he may lose. However, the probability of Trump’s second term as president is alarmingly high. The consequences of it for democracy and the world could be disastrous.
President Joe Biden divides the world crudely into rival democratic and autocratic camps. He says this is the defining struggle of the age. So if he fails to beat his likely Republican challenger, Donald Trump—a man who says he will not act as a dictator if elected but evidently cannot wait to do so—then many around the world, starting with Putin and Xi, may conclude it’s all up with democracy.
A Trump victory—and the ensuing chaotic Jacobean-style revenge tragedy it will inevitably trigger—could permanently upend the international order, tipping the balance towards authoritarianism and dictatorship. If the US, “the city upon a hill,” ceases to fight for it, democracy will surely wither and die.