2024 is the year of elections, but which ones should you be keeping an eye on?
2024 is a year of elections. 64 countries and the European Union, representing a combined 49% of the global population, will be going to the ballot box over the coming 12 months. Taking place across the globe, these elections will have lasting impacts both domestically and internationally for almost half the population.
At the time of writing, it has not been confirmed when the UK general election will be held- it could technically be as late as January 2025. However, according to Politics.co.uk, at a Westminster press social event, Sunak told reporters to look forward to an election in 2024. No political party in the UK has won 5 general elections in a row, and it is looking increasingly likely that Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are going to form the next government, bringing an end to the 20 years of Conservative rule. The SNP are also facing a tough time at the ballot boxes, with most polls predicting that they are no longer going to be the largest party in Scotland, while the Liberal Democrats are hoping to pick up some seats in the south of England from the Conservatives. There will also be local and mayoral elections across the country- which will more than likely have an impact on the timing of the general election. It is likely that the defining issues of the election will be the cost-of-living crisis, immigration, the environment, and health.
European Parliament elections
This June, all 27 members of the European Union (EU) will go to the polls to determine who will represent them in the European Parliament. While this election is one of the biggest in the world in terms of eligible voters, it usually suffers a mediocre turnout, with only 50% of eligible voters turning out in 2019. This year’s election is particularly important, as some pollsters predict that there will be a swing to the right, a trend seen across European politics in recent years. Current predictions put the Identity and Democracy Party as the third largest party, which could have a serious impact on the consensus politics that has dominated the parliament in recent years. Climate change, migration, and a recent economic downturn are all set to be defining issues of the election.
Finland is set to go to the polls in January, and their entry into NATO, and Russian actions on the eastern border mean that foreign and security policy will be at the forefront of the election campaigns. Candidates include Social Democrat EU commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, Green former UN Special Representative Pekka Haavisto, who would become the first Green President, and also the first gay president if elected, and right wing former Prime Minister Alex Stubb. The question that will dominate the campaign for this election will be what the new president’s attitude will be towards Russia, and whether the nation will continue to build on its western relations, or if it will experience the move to the political right that has been seen in other Scandinavian nations.
While the role of the president of Iceland is largely ceremonial, it is notable that the incumbent president has said that he will not run again. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson has been the president since 2016, but announced in his New Year Address that he would not be seeking this second term as he felt that “In a thriving democracy, moreover, no one is irreplaceable”. Following on from other European nations, it will be interesting to see if Iceland experiences the same swing to the political right.
Croatians will take to the polls this year to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections. Two of the right wing parties- Bridge and the Croatian Sovereigntists- have formed a coalition against the current ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union, which experts have suggested represent “the second biggest political force in the country”. However, with the Croatian Democratic Union polling at 33%, it looks likely that Croatia will continue with a pro-western outlook, rather than falling into Putin’s sphere of influence.
May will bring the Lithuanian presidential election, and October will bring the elections to the Seimas. Currently, the incumbent president, Gitanas Nauseda is the favourite to win, and the suspense in the election is whether anyone will be able to pose a challenge significant enough to drive the election into a second round of voting. Nauseda has recently implored the West to give Ukraine more air defence systems following a recent large scale Russian missile strike, showing that a victory for the incumbent would be encouraging for the West and their packages of aid for Ukraine.
Maia Sandu, the incumbent pro-European president has recently announced that she will seek a second term in office. She has called on the parliament to start preparing for a referendum to join the European Union and has also denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Her party saw success in the recent local elections, speaking to the views of the Moldovan people regarding Europe and Russia. Sandu’s biggest opponent is Socialist pro-Russian former president Igor Dodon, and while there have been allegations of Russian interference in the election, it is looking likely that Sandu’s pro-European party will remain in power. This would be a huge blow to Putin, who is aiming to block Moldova’s European pathway, looking to cement power in the former Eastern Bloc.
North Macedonia, a small landlocked country in the Balkans, will finally go to the polls this spring. The opposition party has been trying to call snap elections for the past two years, but the Social Democrat government say that these elections will only happen if a preamble is included in the nations constitution that acknowledges the Bulgarian minority in the state-founders. This is crucial if Macedonia’s bid to join the EU is not again going to be blocked by Bulgaria. The elections here will be closely monitored by Serbia, who will be focused on the messages the campaigners send regarding the Kosovo issue.
Perhaps the most predictable election of the year, with Putin expected to win almost 90% of the vote, according to a spokesperson. This election will cement Putin as the longest serving Russian leader since Stalin, and with recent constitutional changes, he could be in power until at least 2036. While the results may be obvious, the events of the election are not to be ignored. Putin seems to have weathered the storm of any potential issues at home, despite the huge death toll (359,230according to Ukrainian armed forces) in his war against Ukraine. He has also managed to transform his economy into a wartime economy, by isolating the economy from western sanctions and diverting oil and gas supplies through friendly countries. Putin is effectively playing a waiting game- for the West to tire of the Ukrainian war, and for Trump to potentially win the US presidential election.
No legislative or political changes are expected in Belarus, but experts are waiting to see the level of protest that will take place upon the inevitable victory of President Lukashenko. In 2020, the largest anti-government demonstrations the country had seen since the fall of the Soviet Union took place. These demonstrations were supported by the US and the EU, and it is likely that demonstrations of a similar size should be expected again.
Early 2024 will see Taiwanese voters heading to the polls, amid fears that China may invade the country. The current frontrunner is Lai Ching-te, who is the vice president from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. If he wins, Lai will continue the measured policy towards Beijing, but his is opposed by the Kuomintang party, who are pro-Beijing, and advocate reunification as a key part of their election policy. Washington is heavily invested in the results of this election, as they have repeatedly stated that they will militarily intervene in a conflict between Taipei and Beijing, meaning that the results of this election will have global impacts.
January 7th is the date for the population of Bangladesh to head to the polls. Sheikh Hasina, current Prime Minister and chair of the Awami Party is looking like she is going to gain re-election, although this is not without controversy. Hasina’s government has been accused of “stifling free expression and systemically incapacitating the opposition”, leading to protests and the main opposition party boycotting the election. Despite the political instability, the country is experiencing a good growth rate, which is suggested makes Bangladesh an appealing economic partner to many countries.
On Valentine’s Day (February 14th), the world’s largest single day election will take place, with nearly 200 million voters predicted to head to the polls. Indonesian politics has largely been dominated by business people, and thus the social elite. 2024 is no different, apart from the promise by outgoing president Joko Widodo to “meddle” in the race to secure his legacy.
The 2024 elections in Iran will be the first set of elections since the mass protests following the death of Masha Amini who was allegedly not following the state rules on proper dress. The main challenges for the government are maintaining political stability in the wake of these protests, and stabilising the economic situation, especially considering the very high inflation rate, and the fact that 60% of Iranians are living below the poverty line. The government wants to avoid the same level of protest that it saw in 2022, while also encouraging people on the fringe to become supporters of the Islamic Republic.
Elections in Azerbaijan are being held a year earlier than initially planned after a snap election was called by president Ilham Aliyev. His popularity in Azerbaijan has increased in recent months after the government took control of the Karabakh. This was the second successful assault on the ethnic Armenian territory, leading to 100,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing the region. According to an Azerbaijani pollster, about 75% of the population agrees with how Aliyev handled the conflict, making Aliyev’s chances of a second term look high. His victory would mean that these assaults on the ethnic Armenian population may continue.
Winning the support of the military will be key for whoever wants to come to victory in Pakistan. The country has seen years of rule by political dynasties, is currently in the depths of a brutal economic crisis, and the most popular political figurehead (Imran Khan) is currently behind bars. This election is likely to be controversial, as Khan states that the charges against him are politically motivated to keep him behind bars and prevent him from running. Ultimately, whoever wins the election will be faced with an insecure tenure and will have to rely on the military to cement their premiership.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is looking likely to secure a third term when Indians head to the polls. Modi has become a significant figure on the world stage, making diplomatic trips to Australia and the US and hosting the G20 summit in September. However, Modi is facing criticism for his party’s policies towards minorities, and censorship and harsh punishments for those who speak out against the government. He is also running against a new alliance of 26 political parties, including the main opposition party. While it currently looks good for Modi, a few months is a long time in politics.
United States of America
Seemingly ironically for the country that classes herself as the greatest democracy in the world, democracy is at stake in the 2024 US election. The election of Donald Trump back to the presidency will see attacks on democratic norms becoming a regular way of life, and it will also validate the 2/3of Republicans who believe the “Big Lie” (that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump). US foreign policy choices will have global impacts, and with two huge on-going conflicts (Ukraine and Israel/Hamas being just two examples), it is crucial that the US leads the rest of the world in their response. Trump has already said that if he wins, he will reduce support from Ukraine and remove the US from NATO, both of which would have devastating global consequences. This election is possibly the most important one of this whole list, and its outcome will affect everyone, American citizen or not.
June 2nd will see Mexico almost certainly elect their first female president. Claudia Sheinbaum is the continuity candidate for the Morena Party, and will face Xóchitl Gálvez, a former senator. It currently looks like the race is Sheinbaum’s to lose, but whoever wins will be faced with the issue of controlling the violence in the country- with an estimated ½ of the territory controlled by cartels. The incumbent president has made the defence of national sovereignty one of the pillars of his political brand, and could potentially put a stop to the US-China plan to curb illegal trade of fentanyl. Neither candidate has openly stated how they will handle US-Mexico relations, but this election will undoubtedly be affected by the results of the USA election.
Over the past 20 years Venezuela has devolved into authoritarianism, under Chávez and then Maduro. The US attempted to back a regime change by recognising opponent Juan Guaidó, but this would prove to be unsuccessful, leading to Guaidó moving to Miami in exile. US sanctions on the country have led to about half of the population living in poverty as of 2022. However, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent Western embargo on Russian oil, US policymakers have begun to look at the reserves of fossil fuels in capital Caracas. In exchange for free elections being held in 2024, the US lifted sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector. Maduro is now having to allow the Unitary politician María Corina Machado to run to have these sanctions released from the US. However, it is looking possible that Machado could win a free election, putting Maduro between a rock and hard place.
This election is a hugely important election for the nation and could potentially lead to a seismic change in South African politics with supporters of the incumbent African National Congress (ANC) fearing that after 30 years in power they may not meet the threshold of 50% of votes required. The country is struggling to come out of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 1/3 of the country being unemployed, and load shedding (power cuts) being common daily routine for up to six hours a day. ANC politicians have embraced trade and investment ties with China and Russia as part of the BRICS alliance, which has turned off voters. The changing demographic of the nation is also playing a role in the potential defeat of the ANC, with 10 of 27 million voters being in the 18-39 age group, who are typically not as likely to support the ANC. The increased accusations of corruption from within the ANC are turning voters away from the party, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) looking to capitalise on this. While it is looking more hopeful for the DA, it is not a given that they will win, especially considering their lack of racial diversity within their leadership, and the entrenched nature of the ANC. Whoever wins will have an impact on the future of foreign influence in South Africa, and the future of the BRICS alliance.
Senegalese democracy is generally considered a barometer of democracy in Africa, but since 1960 it has only had 4 presidents. The incumbent president has said that he will not stand for re-election, and the main opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko has only recently been allowed back on the electoral register after being jailed on charges of insurrection. Senegal is one of the leading countries in the Economic Community of West African States, meaning that the country has considerable power over regional issues such as security, trade, and human rights. Senegal, being one of the more prosperous countries in the region, will help to shape political relations within the continent. If the election is successful, it may encourage other African nations to move back to democratic rule.
While it looks mostly likely that come July of this year Paul Kagame will remain as Rwandan president, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between the UK and Rwanda may change in light of a UK election and a potential change to the Rwanda asylum bill.