By Ambra Visentin
One month into 2024, we are already seeing the results of some major elections, the first of a very long series in a record year: no fewer than 76 Countries are going to the polls, representing 51% of the world’s population. If we restrict ourselves to national elections alone, whether presidential or legislative, 56 Countries will go to the polls, representing more than 40% of the world’s gross domestic product.
Balances in the Pacific
The balance on the world chessboard is shifting more than ever, and this is particularly evident in the Pacific, where the elections in Taiwan on 13th January and in the archipelago of Tuvalu on 26th January will measure the impact of the policies of China and the United States.
On the one hand, there is Taiwan, where William Lai has won the presidential election against the candidate of the Nationalist Party or KMT, Hou You-yi, who is leaning towards eventual unification with China. Lai has declared that he will continue with a policy of maintaining independence from Beijing, but the start of his third term has been marked by a serious loss, that of his majority in parliament, which will force him to work with the pro-Chinese opposition.
Moving in the opposite direction is the micronation of Tuvalu, where former pro-Taiwanese prime minister Kausea Natano failed to win one of two seats up for grabs on the main island of Funafuti. This has fuelled fears in Taipei and the US that the archipelago is on the verge of falling into Beijing’s sphere of influence, despite being one of only 12 Countries in the world to have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The two available seats went to former finance minister Seve Paeniu, who had campaigned on the idea of reviewing relations with China, and Enele Sopoaga. Sopoaga has always spoken out in support of Taiwan, but wants to scrap the anti-Beijing security agreement with Australia signed by Natano. The treaty commits Australia to help Tuvalu in the event of major natural disasters, health pandemics and military aggression. The treaty also gives Australia veto power over any security or defence agreement Tuvalu wishes to enter into with any other Country, including China.
This week, newly elected local lawmakers will meet there to elect their Prime Minister.
Bangladesh, India and Indonesia
On 7th January Sheikh Hasina, the outgoing Prime Minister of Bangladesh, won the parliamentary elections and secured a fifth term in office. It was a resounding victory, confirmed by the votes for her party, which won three quarters of the seats in parliament. The Country has experienced strong economic growth since Hesina came to power, but the government has also been accused of systematic human rights abuses and extreme repression of the opposition.
President Narendra Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has led India since 2014, is nearing the end of his term. To be re-elected, Modi must beat a coalition of 26 political parties united under the Indian Inclusive Alliance for National Development, the successor to the Congress Party.
In Indonesia, more than 200 million Indonesian voters and 1.75 million overseas citizens will vote for president, vice president and 20,000 representatives in national, provincial and district parliaments. The current president, Joko Widodo, the first not to come from the Country’s political elite or to have been an army general, cannot run again because of the two-term limit. The candidates are: Prabowo Subianto, running for the fourth time, against Anies Baswedan of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Ganjan Pranowo.
Mongolia and Iran
Voting is also underway in one of the Countries most closely watched by human and civil rights organisations – Iran. On 8 February, Iranians will be asked to elect a new president. But support for the regime in the Islamic Republic is waning. Months of violent protests following the death of the Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini in September have revealed discontent that cuts across all social classes and provinces. The Head of State’s call for people to take part in the parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections on 1 March also reflects the uncertainty of the Iranian leadership: “Those who oppose the elections have taken a stand against the Islamic Republic, against Islam,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an ominous tone, knowing full well that a record negative turnout is expected.
A geopolitically sensitive region between China and Russia, Mongolia is performing a difficult balancing act in foreign, security, economic and energy policy. Parliamentary elections will be held in June. The Mongolian People’s Party (MVP), led by young prime minister Oyun-Erdene, is likely to win, but an outright majority is not certain. Even more remarkable are the changes to the electoral law that he and the reformist forces have initiated: more parties will be able to enter parliament and there will be a 30% quota for women. Mongolia’s democracy, unique in the region, enjoys the support of Germany, which wants to secure its position as “the most important European partner” in the future.
The Country of 241 million people, is due to hold a delayed national election on 8 February. But the vote has been marred by allegations of fraud by the main opposition party, led by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan. Two weeks ago, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was stripped of its election symbol by a Supreme Court order, leaving its leaders with no choice but to contest as independents with their own individual symbols. In a Country with a 60% illiteracy rate, election symbols are necessary to help voters identify the parties they support on the ballot paper.
Two days after the Supreme Court’s decision, Maryam Nawaz, daughter of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, launched her party’s campaign with a rally in the town of Okara in Punjab province, the crucial region in the election.
Russia and Ukraine
It is not easy to imagine change in an authoritarian and increasingly repressive Country. But in Russia, where the next presidential election will be held on 17 March, something seems to be moving. Several Russian politicians, including the former deputy of the Kuntsevo district Denis Shenderovich, have sent a letter to the Central Election Commission demanding that current president Vladimir Putin be denied registration for the upcoming presidential elections in Russia. The document states that he has no right to take part in presidential elections more than twice in a row. The text of the appeal contains facts of numerous violations of the electoral law by the current president of Russia. At the same time, the popularity of Boris Nadezhdin, whose team claims to have collected more than 100,000 signatures, is sufficient for him to stand. A local councillor for more than three decades, Nadezhdin is seen as a former member of the regime whose criticism of the Kremlin has so far been tolerated. His popularity may also be due to his declared intention, if he wins, to end the invasion of Ukraine from the first day in office. There are, however, not many options available to the electorate: opposition leader Alexei Navalny, once seen as a serious threat to the president’s authority, has been in prison since 2021, while many other opponents have been murdered, imprisoned or forced into exile.
On the other side of the “trench”, in Ukraine, president Volodymyr Zelensky, has not ruled out holding presidential elections, despite the fact that martial law, which has been in place for almost two years, prohibits them. But holding elections while large swathes of the Country are under foreign occupation and millions of Ukrainians have been driven from their homes risks boomeranging and raising many questions. Moreover, if there are blatant irregularities, the election would pose a threat to Ukraine’s efforts to join the EU.
European Parliament and European elections
From 6 to 9 June, citizens of the member States of the European Union are called upon to vote for the renewal of the European Parliament, the only directly elected transnational assembly in the world. Citizens go to the polls every five years. The European Parliament is considered the second largest democratic election in the world. Its 705 members have been directly elected since 1979. On the basis of the result of the vote, the European Council chooses the candidate for the presidency of the Commission, the real power in the EU. The President must have the confidence of a majority of MEPs.
In Europe, in addition to the European Parliament, the parliaments of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Lithuania, Portugal and Romania will be renewed in June; new presidents will be elected in Croatia, Finland, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia. Looking further east, elections are scheduled in Azerbaijan (presidential), Belarus (parliamentary), Georgia (both), Moldova (presidential) and North Macedonia (both); also on the (local) ballot is the UK, which will not renew its parliament and government until early 2025, while Iceland has presidential elections scheduled for June 2024.
The next occupant of the White House will be elected on 5 November. But before that, there are the party primaries for both the Democrats and Republicans. All eyes are on former president Donald Trump (75), who could face outgoing Democrat Joe Biden (81) in November. It remains to be seen as Biden, with his health problems, is considered inadequate by a section of his party who would prefer Michelle Obama to him. The wife of former President Barack has not yet withdrawn her candidacy. A Biden-Obama ticket is not out of the question, with the former first lady in the role of vice-presidential candidate. Off the radar is the current number 2 in the White House, Kamala Harris.
The situation is also complex in the Republican Party, where Trump dominates everything but his legal troubles. He faces 37 counts in the case of documents stolen from the White House and found by investigators at his private residence in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. A federal judge has ordered the trial to begin on 20 May 2024, a few months before the presidential election in November. And then there is the matter of the storming of the Capitol. The Donald is accused of trying to undermine the election and thus violate the Constitution. This would jeopardise his eligibility. It remains to be seen what the Supreme Court, whose decision is expected on 8 February, will decide. Meanwhile, his race within the party seems unstoppable. After his triumphs in Iowa and New Hampshire, Nikky Haley (52), former governor of South Carolina and ex-UN ambassador, is trying to keep up with him. The next confrontation is scheduled for 24 February in her own State.
Mexico and Venezuela
The spotlight is on female presidential candidates in Central and South America. In Mexico, former Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum is running for the ruling alliance Sigamos Haciendo Historia, while Senator Xóchitl Gálvez is running for the coalition Fuerza y Corazón por México, which brings together several opposition parties.
In Venezuela, the Nicolás government is coming to an end. The current president has not yet announced his candidacy. The primary elections for the leader of the opposition were held in October and the winner was Maria Corina Machado, leader of Vente Venezuela, with 93% of the vote. The current candidate has been blacklisted for some 15 years, and it is this government ban that will be the next hurdle to overcome. She could become the Country’s first female president. But the elections in Venezuela are a delicate step in the redefinition of relations with the US.
Africa – 16 countries on the ballot
In 2024, many Countries on the African continent will go to the polls. First up is Senegal, which will hold presidential elections on 25 February. Algeria will elect a new president at the end of the year. Elections are also scheduled in Mozambique and South Africa.
In Somalia, universal suffrage (one person, one vote) will be applied for the first time since 1969. In Senegal, incumbent president Macky Sall is nearing the end of his second term but does not intend to stand again. The Socialist Party and the Alliance of Forces for Progress have confirmed the candidacy of Amadou Bas, the current Prime Minister. Rwanda will hold presidential and parliamentary elections at the same time in early 2023, for the first time since a constitutional amendment.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s party, the African National Congress, has led the country continuously since 1994. In recent years, support for the party has waned and it has continued to weaken. In Mozambique, the Frelimo party has also been in power since independence in 1975. The current president, Filipe Nyusi, cannot run for a third term and his party has yet to nominate a successor.
Cover image by tomertu on Shutterstock