More than half world’s voters face elections in 2024, potentially reshaping global history

Move over Trump and Biden, there are consequential elections also in Taiwan, India, South Africa, and possibly Ukraine.

Published: January 1, 2024 11:13pm

More than half the people in the world live in countries that will hold national elections in 2024, an electoral calendar that could reshape global history and define relations between the world’s two largest economies – the United States and China's.

The first major election of the year will take place Jan. 13 in Taiwan, where the outcome is sure to spark a response from neighboring China – either an increase or decrease in the defense posture.

China President Xi Jinping in his New Year's address renewed his vow to reunify China and Taiwan, which has increasingly tried to become more democratic and closely aligned with Western allies.

Meanwhile, the leading candidates in Taiwan's upcoming election each has different takes on how to best handle the prickly relationship with Beijing. 

Ten months later, U.S. voters will go to the polls, most likely to choose between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump – a rematch from four years earlier.

Their respective strategies for containing and engaging China are a mix of similarities and differences.

While Biden has criticized autocracies, would includes Xi's, extend to an unprecedented third term this past spring when the 70-year-old leader was again reelected, Trump has lauded his ability to control and govern the country. 

“He’s now president for life,” Trump said as far back as 2018. “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

Trump gave U.S. support for a more independent Taiwan, which Biden has continued. And Trump got tariffs on China imports that Biden has left in place.

In addition to Taiwan, then U.S. voting, there are national elections of some kind in at least 60 other countries in what may be the largest display of democracy in history.  

Voters this year will decide on new leaders (among many others) in the European Union, India, Iran, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and perhaps in Ukraine.

Russia voters will also cast votes this year, on March 17, with 71-year-old President Vladimir Putin expected to win a fifth term.

Here’s a guide to the most impactful elections of 2024:

• In the European Union, citizens of 27 member states will in June cast votes for members of the European Parliament, for which polls show the balance of power between the main center-right alliance (the European People’s Party Group) and the left (the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats).

The outcome of the vote could have a big impact on everything from aid for Ukraine to rules governing artificial intelligence and refugee policy.

• Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is favored to win a third term in office during votes scheduled for April or May, which means the world’s most populous country will continue its efforts to emerge as a global player outside the spheres of influence in Washington, Beijing, and Brussels.

But the country’s high poverty rates and tensions between its Hindu and Muslim populations remain major challenges. 

• The war in Gaza has dominated the news in Iran, which will nonetheless select new legislators in March. Nobody is expecting wholesale changes in the Islamic state, which the U.S. says is a major sponsor of global terrorism. But crackdowns there in 2022 caused widespread protests, leaving Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to choose between risking international condemnation for disqualifying critics from running or having the legislature dominated by rivals.  

U.S. southern neighbor Mexico will almost surely elect its first female head of state in June.

The question is whether it will be progressive Claudia Sheinbaum (a champion of LGBTQ+ rights and renewable energy, and the new head of the country’s long-standing political establishment) or businesswoman and opposition figure Xóchitl Gálvez, an anti-corruption campaigner who emphasizes indigenous rights. Both candidates favor working with the U.S. on border issues, amid record-high northern migration. 

• This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the end of all-white rule in South Africa, but the vote set to take place in the summer will happen in a country crippled by crime and unemployment. Despite being the richest major country on the continent, South Africa’s economy is sputtering, and there’s a chance that a white-led opposition party could return to power for the first time since apartheid.  

• Slow economic growth and controversies related to immigration are the main obstacles for conservative U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, raising the possibility that a labor government could take power in London for the first time since 2010. Sunak’s approval levels are low but have improved in recent weeks. No date has yet been set for the vote.

• In Ukraine, the debate is whether to even hold the election scheduled for March.

The martial law established in the country after the Russian invasion in 2022 officially prohibits elections from taking place, and many in the country fear that holding a vote could distract from its efforts to withstand Russian forces while sparking security concerns. Others say that holding a vote despite the difficult circumstances would reinforce the country’s democratic credentials and there is speculation that if President Volodymyr Zelensky stays in power too long without a vote (he was elected in 2019) it could erode his authority domestically and internationally. 

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