Half the world is voting democracies will be put to

Half the world is voting: democracies will be put to the test in 2024 news

Around four billion people are affected by national elections, which will determine the political future of half the world in 2024. Asia starts on Sunday with Bangladesh, followed a week later by Bhutan and Taiwan.

The election is also a seismograph of the tense relationship with neighboring China, which considers the democratic island republic of Taiwan as part of its territory. The current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), in power, leads the polls by a significant margin over the Taiwan People's Party (TPP) and the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), Beijing's preferred electoral winner.

In the run-up to the elections, Taiwan's National Security Council saw greater efforts by China to influence the election outcome in its favor. According to the agency, Beijing is waging a disinformation campaign, threatening military action and putting pressure on Taiwan's economy.

Choice does not equal freedom

In the area of ​​political rights and civil liberties, the American research institute Freedom House classifies just over half of the countries that voted this year – including Taiwan – as free. The civil rights organization classifies about a fourth country as partly free and a fifth as not free.

At the bottom of the democracy rankings are South Sudan, North Korea and Belarus, all of which are voting this year. Power in Russia, which is not free and authoritarian according to its classification, has been in the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin for almost a quarter of a century. Political competition is in prison, in exile or eliminated.

Overview of the 2024 elections, by democracy index (Freedom House) and population (excluding regional elections)

Since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, the government has further restricted individual rights and freedoms in order to suppress dissent in the country, Freedom House writes. March presidential elections are also scheduled to take place in the regions of Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia which were annexed by Russia in violation of international law.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's five-year term will also end in the spring. In November, however, he spoke out against holding elections, saying it was “not appropriate”.

Race for greater democracy

The world's largest democracy, India, will elect a new parliament in May. Narendra Modi, from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been prime minister since 2014 and is seeking a third term.

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Although India is a multi-party democracy, Modi has pursued discriminatory policies and increased persecution of the Muslim population, writes Freedom House. Autocratic tendencies make critics doubt the fairness of the election. A victory for the 28-party opposition coalition INDIA (Inclusive Alliance for Indian National Development) would be a surprise.

Stress testing also in Europe and America

The EU elections in May are also one of the biggest elections this year, with around 400 million people voting in a new transnational parliament. In addition, national parliamentary or presidential elections are held in seven EU countries – including Austria – and regional elections are held in five countries.

The United States will also elect a new president in September. It looks like a repeat of 2020 between current Democratic President Joe Biden and former Republican President Donald Trump.

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The elections are subjecting democracies on both continents to a stress test, as shown in a survey carried out by the opinion research institute Ipsos, carried out in December 2023. In the seven Western countries surveyed, the majority see democracy in a worse situation than five years ago. Respondents in France (73 percent) and the US (70 percent) are particularly pessimistic about the latest developments.

Two women are leading the polls in the Mexican election campaign. In June, the country with a population of more than 127 million people is likely to elect a woman president for the first time. In Venezuela, Maria Corina Machado, a woman, is also running in the elections against the incumbent president, Nicolás Maduro. Following the last unfree and fair elections in 2018, the government agreed to invite international election observers this year.

Elections in the coup belt fluctuate

The biggest African elections, in which around 60 million people vote, are taking place this year in South Africa. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the country has been considered a defender of human rights, says Freedom House. But support for the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has been declining among the population for years, following a series of corruption scandals. According to polls, the party could fall below the 50 percent mark for the first time.

However, some elections in the coup belt around West Africa, Central Africa and the Sahel region are on shaky ground. Elections in Burkina Faso are being blocked by the military government due to security concerns, and in Mali the military leadership is also on the brakes – presidential elections are scheduled for February.

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There have been an increasing number of coups d'état in Africa in recent years, 14 of them since August 2020. And although the antecedents vary greatly locally, some parallels can be drawn. For example, “Foreign Affairs” writes that trust in democracy continues to exist even in countries where a coup d'état has recently occurred. People wanted freedom from regimes that claimed to be democratic but that often failed to deliver on democracy's most basic promises.