A record number of elections makes 2024 decision time

More than 70 countries, together home to more than half the world’s population, will go to the polls next year. The consequences will be felt by us all

An Indian official marks a voter's finger during the Punjab state elections of 2022. In 2024, India will hold the world's largest nationwide election in terms of voter numbers.  AFP
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If 2023 were to be summed up in a word, an apt choice might be “tumultuous”: many countries’ temperature records were shattered and some witnessed extreme weather events, such as the floods in Libya; new wars broke out, with unprecedented violence and destruction in Gaza; India surpassed China as the world’s most populous country; advances in AI raised as much concern as excitement; and although the global economy defied predictions of recession, inflation continued to hit billions of people in their pockets.

Anyone hoping for a smoother ride in 2024 will be disappointed. Added to the continuing challenges above will be a record number of national elections; more than 70 countries, together home to more than half the world’s population, will go to the polls.

These contests will include India – with a population of 1.4 billion – which will hold the world’s largest election in terms of voter numbers. In the US, a probable rematch between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump is certain to have major international repercussions. In a historic first, Mexico’s more than 100 million voters will choose a new president from two leading female candidates. Millions of voters will also go to the polls in South Africa, Iran, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Not all of them are national elections. In June, the race for 705 seats in the European Parliament will constitute the world’s largest transnational vote. This is all in addition to many local and regional elections that will take place over the next 12 months. Separately from all of this, there will also be a tussle at the international level for five non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

It is an exciting but unpredictable time for an interconnected and interdependent world that is already struggling with the fallout from several major conflicts, including in Ukraine, where a presidential election scheduled for 2024 is likely to be postponed amid the country’s war with Russia.

The choices made by billions of people – many of them young or first-time voters – will be crucial, not just for their own domestic futures but for the success of hard-won international co-operation, such as that witnessed at Cop28 this month, where nearly 200 nations fought hard to reach an important global compromise on fighting climate change.

Sadly however, in many countries, the voices of extremism and populism already secured a foothold. If enough voters fall for the siren song of easy answers to complex problems, the result for international security agreements, climate change policy and internal stability could be worrying. No less worrying would be the rise to political power of those who inflame and exploit religious, ethnic and social tensions.

The world is in a precarious state. Too many radical breaks with political and economic norms would endanger our imperfect but essential system of international co-existence. Time is running out for incumbents to show that they can govern effectively and deliver for their people. Soon, it will be decision time.

Published: December 29, 2023, 3:00 AM