The year 2024 will witness more elections in a year than ever before; thus, it will be the ultimate election year.

Internationally, history will be rewritten since a record number of voters will head to the polls as at least 64 countries (plus the European Union) – representing a combined population of about 49% of the people in the world – will be holding national elections.

The results of most of these elections will prove consequential for nearly half of humanity while, for many, it may be business as usual as the results of the elections will be a foregone conclusion.

The first elections of 2024 were held in Bangladesh on January 7, where the ruling incumbent Sheikh Hasina Wajid won a consecutive fourth term.

While the United States and Britain have said the recent elections that extended Hasina’s rule in the South Asian country were not credible, free or fair, New Delhi welcomed it.

There is a method in India’s madness because like a midwife, it assisted and enabled the gory birth of Bangladesh through machinations and brute force, turning it into a vassal state ever since Sheikh Hasina came into power in 2009.

The credibility of Hasina’s victory has been questionable following the boycott to the elections by the opposition, after Hasina rejected calls to resign and let a neutral caretaker government run the election.

Thousands of opposition activists were jailed in the run-up to the polls, raising concerns of democratic backsliding and authoritarianism. It poses the question: “What is the point in holding an election when the main opposition is boycotting it and has dismissed the entire exercise as a sham?”

The second election held on January 13, was also controversial. Taiwan, which is an integral part of the People’s Republic of China and has diplomatic ties with only twelve countries, held polls.

Unfortunately, some western powers, despite being signatories to the “One-China Policy” , hailed the elections, raising tensions.

After a long and unconstitutional delay, elections have been announced in Pakistan on February 8. There have been some doubts since the Senate is bent upon moving the election dates but the Election Commission of Pakistan is asserting the announced date to be final.

Russia will be holding elections in March and the prediction is that Putin will be re-elected. Polls are due in Ukraine too but it is not clear whether the war-ravaged country will hold them.

India’s Modi seen unstoppable after surprise state polls sweep

India, which according to population is considered to be the largest democracy in the world, is likely to have elections in March or April.

The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a third term in office, is facing opposition from a new, 28-party opposition coalition called INDIA – Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance.

Ruefully, Modi’s undemocratic practices raise doubts about the poll’s fairness. He expelled the leader of the opposition party, Rahul Gandhi, from parliament after he was sentenced to two years of prison for allegedly defaming the prime minister with a joke.

Modi has taken over one of the few remaining independent television stations through a dubious billionaire ally. He has also created an official panel empowered to take down social media posts critical of the government.

The ruling dispensation in New Delhi – the BJP – sent tax officials to raid the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, a move widely seen as retaliation for a documentary critical of Modi.

Being in power has become self-reinforcing for Modi. The BJP has used its electoral dominance to silence critics and stack the electoral deck against his opponents, making the upcoming 2024 parliamentary election a significant uphill climb for other parties. Mystery deaths of Modi’s opponents abroad and the brutal army crackdown in IIOJK are shaping up the upcoming polls to be critical for India’s democratic future.

Canada’s Trudeau wants India to cooperate in murder probe, won’t release evidence

Another explosive 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 the ANC, in possible coalition with the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters, will cling to power. But the party looks set to be castigated by voters for years of alleged corruption, leadership scandals, high rates of crime, unemployment, and extreme daily power outages of up to six hours. A low turnout could seal the ANC’s fate.

In Britain, if current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sticks to his promise, elections will be held in 2024 but it is possible that owing to a bleak economic outlook casting a shadow over the U.K.‘s ruling Conservative Party, which has been in power for nearly 14 years, the opposition Labour Party may emerge victorious in Britain’s next general election.

Polls are due in Iran, Indonesia, South Korea, Sri Lanka and numerous other countries too but the one in Mexico is drawing attention since for the first time two women candidates vying for the top slot are likely to break the glass ceiling.

The Presidential elections in the U.S., scheduled for November are going to receive the most focus. President Joe Biden, seeking a second term, will probably have a faceoff with his nemesis, Donald Trump. The results would have a direct bearing on the entire world.

Political analysts and observers question: “What do the elections galore spell for the health of democracy?” A recent Ipsos opinion poll in western countries found a widespread belief that current democratic systems favour 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 study. Respondents in all but one of the countries surveyed, which also included Croatia, Italy, Poland and Sweden, agreed “radical change” was needed.

The ballot boxes could result in a more unstable world but let us examine some other international opinion surveys. Freedom House, the independent, US-based watchdog, concluded in its 2023 report: “Moscow’s war of aggression led to devastating human rights atrocities in Ukraine”.

New coups and other attempts to undermine representative government de-stabilised Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Peru, and Brazil … Ongoing repression continued to diminish basic liberties in Guinea and constrain those in Turkey, Myanmar and Thailand, among others.“

Yet the report acknowledged that while 35 countries experienced declines in political rights and civil liberties, 34 saw overall gains. The principle of free speech, essential to fully functioning democracy, is also under attack, rights campaigner Jacob Mchangama argued in Foreign Policy magazine. “Even open democracies have imposed restrictive measures to combat a range of threats including hate speech, disinformation, extremism and public disturbances,” he wrote, citing increased EU online regulation and curbs on pro-Palestinian protests.

In the African Continent, where seventeen countries will hold elections in 2024, there is a growing disillusionment with democracy. Comfort Ero and Murithi Mutiga of the International Crisis Group noted in an article in The Guardian in December 2023 that seven African leaders were toppled by their own militaries between August 2020 and November 2023.

These have been 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.

Perhaps by the end of the year, we can pass a verdict on whether 2024 — year of multiple elections — has been a boon or bane for democracy.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

S. M. Hali

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF, and now a security analyst


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