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2024 election: Democracy’s ultimate challenge with over four billion eligible voters

Democracy faces diverse risks, with discernible patterns across jurisdictions. Despite challenges in 2024, optimism remains for its future, with people from 40+ countries participating in elections, representing over half the world's population.

  • The diverse and extensive election calendar hints at democracy’s triumph as the leading governance principle today.

  • Democracy’s rise in India and Indonesia, the second and fourth most populous nations, has transformed global human freedoms.

  • Democracy remains the model that most developing nations aspire to emulate. The number of electoral democracies increased from 69 in 1990 to 122 by 2014.

  • Elections unfold amid global illiberalism, weakened institutions, and youth disillusionment with democracy, yet optimism for a more democratic world persists.

In 2024, democracy faces its largest test yet. A historic milestone, over four billion people, spanning more than 40 countries, will participate in elections—more than half of the world’s population.

National elections will be held in countries such as the United States, India, Indonesia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Mexico, and South Africa, among others. The European Union will also have elections.

This packed election calendar is notable for the diversity of nations and peoples involved as well as its immense scale. It’s tempting to view this record as a triumph for democracy, the primary organizing principle for governing people in the modern world.

However, a closer examination reveals that democracy faces risks on multiple fronts. While these challenges manifest differently across various jurisdictions, distinct patterns are discernible. 2024 will prove to be a challenging year for democracy, yet there remains room for cautious optimism about its future.

Here’s a rundown of just some of the significant elections that will shape the world in 2024.

United States

The US general election in November 2024 stands out as the most consequential of the year, covering the presidency, House of Representatives, and Senate. For decades, America has been the leading democracy globally, albeit with imperfections, ensuring democratic governance worldwide.

Donald Trump is expected to be the Republican nominee. His previous presidential term saw significant actions undermining democracy, as per analysis by Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem).

Now, he promises to punish his political opponents, override the independence of the Department of Justice, and expand presidential authority into non-political areas of government administration.

This has led President Joe Biden to caution that “Democracy is on the ballot” in the 2024 Presidential vote. At this point, US voters appear indifferent, with Trump leading in many crucial opinion polls.

India and Indonesia

The rise of democracy in India and Indonesia, the world’s second and fourth most populous nations, has been a game-changer for global human freedoms. The scale of elections in these developing nations, with a combined population of 1.7 billion, is a modern administrative miracle.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears poised for a third term in an election likely to occur between April and May.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto is the clear frontrunner for the presidency in the world’s largest Muslim nation, with elections expected in February.

In both cases, there is a risk that these “strongman” leaders, despite winning power through free and fair elections, may implement illiberal policies that strain democratic institutions.

United Kingdom and Europe

A general election in the United Kingdom is expected in the latter part of 2024. Current polling indicates a potential change of government after 14 years, with the Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, likely to emerge victorious.

If that occurs, it will serve as a reminder of democracy’s capacity to facilitate the peaceful transfer of political power between opposing factions, a feat that has eluded humanity for much of history. Other elections in Europe will gauge the popularity of the populist far right.

The victory of anti-Islam extremist Geert Wilders in the November elections in the Netherlands has led many analysts to predict a surge in support for the far
right in the European Parliament elections in June, as well as in national elections in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, and Finland.

Africa

National elections are taking place in a dozen African countries this year, including Rwanda, Ghana, Tunisia, South Sudan, and Algeria. However, the focus will primarily be on the mid-year election in South Africa, which will be the most significant since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Current polls indicate that after three decades in power, the African National Congress (ANC) may not secure the required 50% of votes needed for independent governance, potentially ending 30 years of one-party rule.

Bogus elections

Special mention must be made of the 2024 elections, which are expected to lack freedom and fairness. Russia, Rwanda, and Belarus are governed by tyrannical leaders who imprison opponents and conduct fraudulent elections resulting in majorities exceeding 90 percent.
Then there are the charade elections happening in Bangladesh, Iran, and Tunisia, where leaders permit opposition parties to compete but not to win.

Will democracy pass these tests?

Elections are unfolding amid a global rise in illiberalism, the erosion of independent institutions in major democracies, and growing disillusionment in advanced democracies—particularly among younger generations—regarding the advantages of democratic governance.

However, there is also cause for cautious optimism that the long arc of history continues to bend towards a more democratic world.

Democracy remains the model that most developing nations aspire to emulate. According to Freedom House, the number of electoral democracies increased from 69 in 1990 to 122 by 2014. It is noteworthy that even dictators and despots feel compelled to present themselves with the facade of a democratic mandate. Surveys of citizens in advanced democracies consistently reveal high levels of support for democratic ideals.

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people” still holds significant advantages over all the other alternatives currently being attempted. However, in 2024, it will face a significant test.



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