Ten Elections to Watch in 2024
from The Water's Edge

Ten Elections to Watch in 2024

Dozens of countries, constituting half the world’s population, will hold elections in 2024. Here are ten to watch.
A woman casts her ballot at a polling center in Solo, Central Java province, Indonesia, on April 17, 2019.
A woman casts her ballot at a polling center in Solo, Central Java province, Indonesia, on April 17, 2019. Antara Foto/Mohammad Ayudha/Reuters

Two thousand twenty-four looks to be the mother of all election years. More than three dozen countries, with a total population of four billion people, will see their citizens head to the polls. Some of those elections are foregone conclusions. The odds are good, for example, that Vladimir Putin will win a resounding victory in the first round of Russia’s presidential election, now set for March 17, which means he will continue his war on Ukraine. For its part, Ukraine looks to be one of the few countries that won’t hold national elections as planned, in its case because of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s judgment that the war with Russia makes elections difficult if not impossible to hold.

But in many if not most of the countries headed for elections next year the outcome remains up in the air. The results in some instances will be consequential not just for the country in question but for its neighbors as well, and in at least one case the results could be consequential for the future of the world order as we know it. So what follows are ten elections to watch in 2024. In most cases, we know when voters will head to the polls. But in a few cases, the precise dates remain to be set. And the list of critical 2024 election could continue to grow. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has signaled that he will likely call for elections sometime in 2024 rather than wait until 2025 when a new election must be called. Other unplanned elections could materialize as governments fall, whether because of routine parliamentary maneuvers, protests in the streets, or coups.

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United States

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Bangladesh General Election, January 7. The first election of 2024 could be one of the most contentious. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the ruling Awami League (AL) have dominated Bangladeshi politics for the past fifteen years. Over that time, they have increasingly eroded Bangladesh’s democracy. As Freedom House puts it, the AL “has consolidated political power through sustained harassment of the opposition and those perceived to be allied with it, as well as of critical media and voices in civil society.” Much of the AL’s attention has been focused on suppressing the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). By some estimates, half of the BNP’s five million members have now been charged with offenses of one sort or another by the government. Most of the party’s leaders are in jail. The BNP’s response has been to urge its supporters to boycott the January vote. The BNP’s reasoning is straightforward: The election’s outcome has been predetermined and participating in the vote will legitimate it. The United States has been pressing Sheikh Hasina for months to a hold free-and-fair election, including by denying visas to Bangladeshi officials who have undermined democratic elections. That pressure has yet to pay off, and Sheikh Hasina has claimed that the Biden administration is trying to force her from power. Not surprisingly given the government’s hostility to the opposition, political violence has been growing in Bangladesh. In all, Bangladesh’s election is further evidence of the fact that countries can hold an election without necessarily embracing democratic values.

Taiwanese Presidential Election, January 13. The contest among three former mayors for the presidency of Taiwan could have enormous geopolitical consequences. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen is completing her second term in office. By law, she cannot seek a third term. The question is, who will succeed her? The betting money is on the incumbent vice president and Tsai’s fellow Democratic Progressive party (DPP) party member, Lai Ching-te. He previously was the popular mayor of Tainan, Taiwan’s fourth largest city. Lai’s main opponents are Hou You-ih of the Kuomintang (KMT) Party and Ko Wen-je, the founder of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). Hou is the former mayor of New Taipei City, while Ko served as mayor of the neighboring city of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital. Last month, the KMT and TPP sought to improve their chances of denying Lai the presidency by striking a deal to run on a joint ticket. However, the deal quickly collapsed. That development came as a disappointment to China. It sees the DPP as a threat to its “One China” policy, even though the DPP, like the KMT and TPP, opposes calls for Taiwan to declare itself independent. Beijing froze official communications with the DPP after Tsai won in 2016 and hasn’t relented since. The DPP’s willingness to build up Taiwan’s defense forces and to move closer to the United States has only increased tensions. Beijing has been relatively restrained in its dealing with Taiwan in the run-up to the election. That could change should Lai become president.

Pakistani General Elections, February 8. Sometimes elections get postponed. Pakistan is a case in point. In August, incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for the dissolution of the Pakistani parliament. New elections were set to be held within ninety days. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan postponed the election, first to sometime in January 2024, and then until February 8, 2024. The commission argued that it needed more time to prepare for the vote. The bigger reason is that Pakistan has been embroiled in political turmoil for nearly two years. In April 2022, the Pakistani Parliament ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former cricket star, on a no-confidence vote. Rather than retire, Khan led protests seeking to force his successor, Sharif, from office. Khan soon found the Pakistani military cracking down on his supporters and Pakistani prosecutors accusing him of taking bribes. Khan denied the charges, but he was quickly convicted and sentenced to three years in jail. Then in November he was charged with leaking state secrets. The government has barred television stations from showing Khan. He recently evaded that ban by using artificial intelligence to create a fiery speech mimicking his voice to share with his supporters over the internet. Whoever becomes Pakistan’s next prime minister will face a daunting in-box. The nuclear-armed country of 230 million people barely avoided a catastrophic default on its foreign debt earlier this year, inflation is running at 30 percent, and electrical outages are commonplace.

Indonesian General Election, February 14. Elections are a massive logistical feat under any circumstance. But imagine holding an election in a country with 275 million people spread across 17,000 islands, and doing it all in a single day. Welcome to Indonesia. Its constitution bars incumbent President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) from running for a third term. The three leading candidates to replace him are Prabowo Subianto, Ganjar Pranowo, and Anies Baswedan. Prabowo is the frontrunner. He is a retired army lieutenant-general who was the son-in-law of Indonesia’s dictator Suharto. Prabowo was dishonorably discharged after Suharto’s ouster in 1998 and banned from entering the United States for two decades because of human rights violations. He is making his third run for the presidency. He lost twice to Jokowi and has served as defense minister since 2019. In a bit of electoral gamesmanship, Prabowo picked Jokowi’s oldest son as his running mate. Ganjar served two terms as governor of Central Java, Indonesia’s third most populous province. He is running as the candidate of Jokowi’s party. Ganjar won high marks for improving the province’s infrastructure, but also alienated voters earlier this year when he opposed allowing Israel to play in Central Java in the under-2020 FIFA World Cup. The decision cost Indonesia its role as host. Anies is the governor of Jakarta. Educated in the United States with a Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University, he became president of an Islamic university and is popular with Islamist groups. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote on February 14, the top two candidates will square off in a final round of voting.

Indian National Elections, April-May 2024. India’s national elections testify to the wonders of democracy. A country of 1.4 billion people who speak more than one hundred languages will use the ballot box rather than the gun or dynastic privilege to decide who will govern them. In 2024, Indians will be electing members of the eighteenth Lok Sabha, or national parliament. The party or coalition that controls the Lok Sabha will in turn select the prime minister. The odds are good that Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win their third election in a row and avoid needing to rely on a coalition to govern. Earlier this month, the BJP won elections in three Indian states, showing that the party’s message continues to resonate with voters. Indeed, polls show that nearly eight out of ten Indians approve of Modi’s job performance, a number that virtually every other democratic head of state would love to have. Modi’s success reflects several factors. On the positive side, India’s economy is growing at 7 percent lifting incomes across the country and fueling the sense that tomorrow will be better than today. On the negative side, Modi’s government has jailed and intimidated opponents while otherwise squeezing the room for political debate. The BJP has also benefited from the weakness of the Congress Party, which dominated Indian politics for the country’s first six decades but has faded since. Continued electoral dominance may be good for the BJP, but it may mean further erosion of India’s democracy.

More on:

United States

2023 in Review

Elections and Voting

South Africa


Mexican Presidential Election, June 2. Mexico will likely have its first woman president by this time next year. The Mexican constitution bars incumbent President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, from seeking reelection even if his 66 percent approval rating makes him the envy of elected leaders around the world not named Narendra Modi. AMLO’s governing Morena Party is putting forth Claudia Sheinbaum as its candidate. She is the former mayor of Mexico City and a long-time AMLO ally. Not surprisingly, she has vowed “full responsibility” for continuing AMLO’s policies. Mexico’s leading opposition parties have banded together under the banner of the Frente Amplio por México (FAM), or Broad Front for Mexico, to put forth Xochitl Gálvez as their candidate. She is a former senator with the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN). Sheinbaum currently has a comfortable lead in the polls, no doubt helped by AMLO’s popularity. She can point to several AMLO successes, most notably a falling poverty rate, an economy growing at more than 3 percent, and slowing inflation. But crime and violence, much of it linked to drug cartels, remain a massive problem. Fentanyl smuggling across the border to the United States has raised tensions with Washington and triggered calls for the U.S. military to attack the cartels. Meanwhile, migration to the United States, much of it by people using Mexico as a transit corridor, further strains relations with the United States. Whoever takes the baton from AMLO next December will have her hands full.

European Parliament Elections, June 6-9. Yes, Europe has a parliament. Or more precisely, the European Union (EU) has a parliament. It doesn’t rival national parliaments in power, and it’s the weakest of the EU’s governing institutions. However, it wields one significant power: It has the ultimate say in selecting the new president of the European Commission, the EU’s real powerhouse. Ursula von der Leyen has yet to say whether she intends to stand for a second five-year term as president. Citizens of the EU’s twenty-seven members states will select 720 parliamentarians to serve from 2024 to 2029. That’s up fifteen seats from the number in the current European Parliament, which was seated in 2019. Each member country votes for its own slate of parliamentarians. The minimum voting age is as young as sixteen (Austria, Germany, Malta), though in most member countries it is eighteen. More than four hundred million Europeans are eligible to vote, making the EU parliamentary election the second largest in the world after India’s national election. A critical question is how many Europeans will vote next June. Turnout in 2019 was 51 percent. That is not an impressive number by global standards. It was, however, the highest turnout in an EU parliamentary election in a quarter century. Another question is whether populist politicians will gain a bigger foothold in the EU parliament, as has happened recently in some national parliamentary elections. The European People’s Party, which has been the dominant party in the European Parliament for a quarter century, has already begun shifting rightward.

Belgian Elections, June 9. Besides producing the best chocolate in the world, Belgium has some of the world’s most interesting politics. Belgium literally holds the Guinness world record for going the longest time without forming a government. After the June 2010 national elections, it took 541 days, or almost eighteen months, for Belgium to form a government. Much of the complexity of Belgian politics owes to the division between the country’s two main language groups, the Flemings (or Flemish), who speak Dutch and constitute 60 percent of the population, and the Walloons, who speak French and constitute 40 percent. (There is also a tiny German-speaking community that has official recognition.) The Flemings and the Walloons each dominate a different region of the country and have lived uneasily together since Belgium was founded in 1830 after breaking away from the Netherlands. When Belgians vote next June, they will be choosing members of their regional, federal, and European parliaments. In doing so, they could be unintentionally deciding whether Belgium will end up on the ash heap of history. The far-right Vlaams Belang Party currently tops the polls in Flanders. Its leader argues that Belgium is “a forced marriage,” and he wants a divorce. That might be idle talk. Tensions between Flemings and Walloons have ebbed in recent years. But the Vlaams Belang Party sees opposition to immigration as its winning issue. The recent success of right-wing populists in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe suggests that the unthinkable could become thinkable.

U.S. General Election, November 5. No election in 2024 will be more consequential than the U.S. general election. Up for grabs are the presidency, one-third of the seats in the Senate, and all the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The presidential race is setting up to be a rerun of the 2020, with Joe Biden squaring off against Donald Trump. If Trump wins, he will join Grover Cleveland as the only American president to serve two non-consecutive terms. But the race isn’t drawing intense interest because it will provide grist for trivia tournaments, but because of fears that it could lead to the demise of American democracy and upend the global order. Trump’s insistence against all evidence that the 2020 election was stolen from him and his talk of “retribution” against those who have opposed him has prompted warnings that he is intent on setting the United States on “the path to dictatorship.” Likewise, his continued attacks on NATO, his dismissal of climate change, and his promises to use tariffs to place a “ring around the U.S. economy” have spurred speculation that his second term as president would upend world politics. Whether Trump or Biden can move on their agenda will depend in good part on what happens in Congress. Republicans look set to retake control of the Senate. Conversely, Democrats could retake the House. In all, next November’s vote may be the one election to live up to the claim of being the most important election of our lifetime.

South African General Election, date to be determined. Democracies may be easier to start than to maintain. South Africa’s next election could prove that hypothesis. South Africa’s transition from apartheid to a functioning democracy was in many ways a miracle. Much of that success is owed to Nelson Mandela, who unlike many other revolutionary leaders resisted the temptation to embrace authoritarianism. But over the years, South Africa’s government has failed to deliver the results that many voters expected while leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), which has dominated South African politics for three decades, has seemed more interested in self-enrichment than in solving the country’s problems. The 2024 election may stop that downward spiral or accelerate it. The election is being held under new electoral rules that should facilitate challenges to the status quo—among other things, independent candidates can now run for office. The ANC has to be concerned. Its support dropped below 50 percent for the first time in the 2021 elections. That drop reflects extensive corruption allegations against party officials combined with high unemployment, slow economic growth, and decaying infrastructure. Despite this bad news, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has himself battled corruption charges, will likely seek a second term. The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s largest opposition party, hopes to shock the world and wrest power away from the ANC by collaborating with other opposition parties. That seems like a longshot. But if the ANC triumphs, South Africa’s democratic decline could well continue.

Sinet Adous, Michelle Kurilla, and Luca Zislin assisted in the preparation of this post.

Other posts in this series:

Five Elections to Watch in 2023

Ten Elections to Watch in 2022

Ten Elections to Watch in 2021

Ten Elections to Watch in 2020

Ten Elections to Watch in 2019

Ten Elections to Watch in 2018

Ten Elections to Watch in 2017

Ten Elections to Watch in 2016

Ten Elections to Watch in 2015

Ten Elections to Watch in 2014

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