A year of ballot boxes and weapons: what issues will shape the course of the world in 2024

There are elections that can define wars. But, the more than 70 electoral processes marked on the 2024 calendar will be a stress test for both the democratic system and the multiplicity of conflicts that fuel global instability. With open wars in Ukraine, Palestine, Sudan or Yemen, the world is experiencing the largest number of active conflicts since the end of the Second World War. For this reason, the geopolitical agenda for the coming months is woven from the mutual impact between the different war conflicts and the verdict of the polls.

In just 12 months, political violence in the world has increased by 27%. It grows in intensity and frequency. The feeling of impunity and contempt for international legislation has worsened. Not only in Gaza. The entrenchment of the war in Ukraine, the expulsion of the population of Armenian origin from Nagorno Karabakh; or the succession of coups d’état experienced in six African countries in the last 36 months give a good account of this moment of “deregulation of the use of force”, which has been brewing during years of erosion of international norms.

The feeling of disorder is not new, nor even its acceleration. But each year the erosion of current international standards increases and unpredictability increases. The world is increasingly decentralized, diversified and multidimensional. This “multiplex order” is consolidated – as Amitav Acharya already described it in 2017 – because everything happens simultaneously.

And yet, we are still facing a redesign of the still open world because this simultaneity of changes concentrates different struggles in the fray. The political consequences of the brutal Israeli offensive in Gaza or the stalemate on the Ukrainian war front also depend on the presidential race in the United States. The cracks in transatlantic unity and the increasingly categorical accusations of double standards in Western loyalties are not unrelated to what happens on November 5, 2024 at the American polls. Even before. Joe Biden himself has seen how his support for Israel can influence the electoral mobilization of younger Democratic voters.

However, a return of Donald Trump to the White House would completely modify the relations of power and Washington’s position in each of these conflicts, from the supply of weapons to the Ukrainian Government, to support for Israel, or in the confrontation with Russia or China.

Unprecedented electoral intensity

But it’s not just about the future of American democracy: more than 4 billion people will go to the polls in 76 countries, almost 51% of the world’s population. The European Union, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Mexico, Venezuela, South Africa or Senegal… large actors with demographic weight and/or geopolitical influence will star in a year of unprecedented electoral intensity, which will define a world in the midst of a global transition of power and in clear humanitarian and fundamental rights regression.

However, such a concentration of elections does not mean more democracy. We are in times of artificial intelligence (AI) and extreme sophistication of manipulation that threaten the reliability of the ballot boxes and will further fuel the gap between society, institutions and political parties. Hybrid systems are gaining ground, and it remains to be seen whether the 2024 electoral cycle ends up being a moment of degradation or democratic resistance.

The future of a European Union, which faces this winter with two wars in its neighborhood, will also be decided at the polls. In addition to the elections to the European Parliament, which will be held between June 6 and 9, 2024, 12 Member States also have elections. The general elections in Belgium, Portugal or Austria will be a good thermometer to measure the strength of the extreme right, which aspires to emerge stronger from the elections to the European Parliament.

If the 2019 elections determined the end of the grand coalition that, since the origins of the European Parliament, had guaranteed social democrats and Christian democrats a majority of seats in the Strasbourg plenary session, now the big question is knowing where the limits of the coalition will be. right-wing of the EU. At the end of 2023, the European polls gave one of lime and another of sand, with the victory of the Polish opposition, on the one hand, and the good results of the Islamophobe Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, on the other. But the intense electoral cycle of 2024 will be decisive in knowing whether the contestation, fragmentation and the rise of political extremism that have transformed democracies both in Europe and globally are consolidated, or if the system resists.

In this democratic test, the vote of women and young people will be key. They were in Poland, as punishment for the reactionary policies of the Law and Justice Party (PIS). In Brazil or Austria, for example, men’s support for far-right forces is 16 points higher than that of women. In the United States, the mobilization of youth of Latin origin will be especially relevant. In recent years, more than 4.7 million young Hispanics have obtained the right to vote and their role will be significant in key states such as Nevada or Arizona. However, fear of an unfair election has increased dramatically among Americans (from 49% in 2021 to 61% in 2023).

Although economic inequality remains the main perceived threat (69%) among US voters, according to a Pew Research Center survey, the biggest challenge in this electoral race is probably the presence of Trump, not only because his immediate future is in the hands of the courts, but also because, if his candidacy were to materialize, it would mean that the Republican Party would have decided to hand over its future to the man who tried to reverse the electoral results of four years ago and to whom the congressional committee itself, which investigated the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2020, accused of “insurrection.”

There is a common thread in many of the previous points that weaves together an increasingly diverse and (dis)ordered world through changing interests and alliances. The crisis of the liberal order, exacerbated by the international reaction to the latest conflicts, and the erosion of multilateralism – with the explicit challenge to the United Nations – further fuel this sensation of dispersion of global power towards a variety of dynamic medium powers, capable of help shape the international environment for decades to come. A key year begins to evaluate the resilience of democratic systems that have long been subject to profound erosion. We will be pending the results of the polls, and the limits of the impunity with which the weapons act, increasingly without complexes.

Carme Colomina Saló is a senior researcher at the think tank CIDOB, Barcelona Center for International Affairs.

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