Democracy Without Borders

In 2024, elections will be held in over seventy countries

Voters in Raleigh, North Carolina, queue for the 2022 Midterm Election in the US. Photo: Shutterstock. Licensed for use on this website.

In 2024, elections are held in more than seventy countries around the world that are home to more than half the world’s population. Media outlets are talking about the “biggest election year in history” and observers find that “each of these elections is crucial to the citizens involved, and cumulatively they will have an enormous impact on the world.”

Bangladesh was the first and already voted on 7 January in a poll that was boycotted by the opposition. The elections in Taiwan, one of the world’s most developed democracies, on 13 January and their outcome will strongly affect international relations and are therefore particularly relevant.

Not all of these elections will be free

Not all countries in which elections will be held are democracies and thus not all of these elections will be free, fair and equal. Various groups such as Freedom House, International IDEA, V-Dem or the Economist Intelligence Unit regularly measure the state of democracy around the world. According to the Economist, at least 28 countries that will vote this year do not meet essential democratic criteria.

The best-known example is the Russian Federation, which is now an electoral dictatorship. The non-democratic elections often are about the confirmation of authoritarian presidents or the election of a successor defined by them in an attempt to build a façade of popular legitimacy.

Not all elections that are due in 2024 and have been included in the calculation are national or state elections. Some of them are regional or local elections, such as those scheduled in Germany.

Countries with national popular elections in 2024. Marked red for presidential/executive elections, blue for parliamentary elections and purple both. Source: Adapted from Wikipedia

One of the elections is a supranational one, namely that for the European Parliament. The European Union is the only supranational democracy in the world, even if it still has certain democratic deficits and repeatedly comes up against its limits because individual member states in collective decision-making still have a veto right on certain issues. The EU Parliament is the largest and most developed multinational parliament in the world and can be classified at a very high level from a democratic perspective. It is a working parliament in which majorities are not pre-defined by coalition governments or factionalism.

One of the elections is supranational: for the European Parliament

Some elections are based on proportional representation, others on first-past-the-post majority voting and again others feature a mixture of both. In simplified terms, it can be said that in proportional representation, seats are allocated according to the proportion of votes cast, while in majority voting the principle of “the winner takes it all” applies. The calculation and distribution of seats is sometimes governed by complicated models, depends on the layout of constituencies, among other things, and is controversial in some countries.

The world’s most populous democracy, India, is also voting this year. However, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India can no longer be considered a functioning, free and fair democracy according to Freedom House. For the upcoming elections, 26 opposition parties have united on a common platform to save and restore democratic principles.

In addition to the largest democracy, very small democracies such as Iceland, which has a very old and long democratic tradition, will also vote.

Of course, the presidential elections in the United States are particularly interesting and will have a strong impact. Much, but certainly not everything, that happens in other democracies around the world will depend on who will be the next US President. If Trump or another Republican wins, we can expect a serious setback for democracy, the dismantling of human rights and democratic principles, andnot only in the United States itself. The course of the Russian war against Ukraine, the situation in Palestine and many other international issues will be decisively influenced by these elections, including the trajectory of the UN. If Trump wins, this will strengthen and encourage autocrats in other countries, above all Putin, and weaken multilateralism further.

If Trump wins, a serious setback for democracy can be expected

Under normal circumstances, Ukraine would also elect a new president this year. However, these elections have been postponed due to martial law. This is criticised by some but on the other hand, elections during the war would involve high risks of division and manipulative intervention by Russia, which could be fatal.

On the African continent, too, several states will vote in 2024, in particular South Africa, a major global player with international influence. It might be the first election since 1994, when South Africa became a democracy, that does not secure an absolute majority for the ruling party, the ANC. Also the oldest continuous democracy in Africa, Botswana, which has been ruled by the Botswana Democratic Party since the 1960s, will have elections. The opposition is joining forces as the Umbrella for Democratic Change and will try to replace the old elites with new ones. If this is successful, a normal democratic transition is to be expected.

Turning back to Taiwan, the fact that this country can be considered a mature democracy disproves the myth that there is a scarcity of democratic traditions and aspirations in the region. Taiwanese freedom is not jeopardized by an alleged tradition of anti-democratic values, but rather by authoritarian China and its explicit military threats.

Taiwanese freedom is jeopardized by authoritarian China

In many countries, it remains to be seen whether democratic forces will prevail or whether authoritarian ones will continue their global run. According to various democracy indices like those mentioned before, the number of democratic states has been in decline for several years, as has the quality of democracy in the remaining democracies. But this is not an automatism. Recently, there have also been counter-examples such as the elections in Poland which brought a new pro-democratic government to power.

The year 2024 will bring us many exciting elections, but some of them are only façade and those that are real will not necessarily lead to more democracy. The fight to make the world fairer and more democratic must therefore continue on many fronts. And we should think big. Imagine that one day there could be global elections! What might seem impossible at first glance is by no means just a pipe dream. The idea of a world parliament and global elections is being spearheaded by Democracy Without Borders and has already found many high-ranking supporters, including former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The core demand is the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations as a step towards the development of a global parliament, a world parliament, that is jointly elected by all world citizens.

Markus Pausch
Markus Pausch is an Austrian political scientist at Salzburg University of Applied Sciences and Chairman of the Association for Democracy & Dialogue. His research includes democratic theory and democratic practice, innovations and citizenship education. Among his recent publications are The future of polarisation in Europe: relative cosmopolitanism and democracy (2021) and Four types of Social Innovation and their impact on democracy in the 21st century (2023).