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Will Global Elections Save or Kill Democracy?

Will Global Elections Save or Kill Democracy?

The year 2024 has been dubbed the "Year of Elections," as an unprecedented number of nations around the globe prepare to hold democratic elections. Nearly half of the world's population will participate in these electoral processes, with over 70 countries conducting national or regional polls. This remarkable convergence of electoral events is unparalleled in modern history, making 2024 a truly historic year for democracy.

Read: Don’t Ignore The Sound Of Absent Voters!

However, these elections are taking place against the backdrop of a concerning global trend. According to the 2023 observation by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in Sweden, the quality of democracy has been deteriorating for six consecutive years in half of the world's nations. This "democratic recession," as coined by Professor Larry Diamond of Stanford University over a decade ago, reflects a period in which the spirit of democracy itself seems to be waning.

Compounding this challenge is the tumultuous state of world politics. Many regions are embroiled in conflicts, tensions, and turmoil, creating a complex web of multifaceted rivalries, alliances, and geopolitical calculations. The outcomes of these elections hold significant implications not only for the progress or regression of democracy within individual nations but also for neighboring countries, regional dynamics, and the very nature of the global order.

Amidst this backdrop, the elections of 2024 have emerged as a pivotal juncture, inextricably linked to the future of global democracy, world peace, and security. The year has already witnessed elections in several countries, including Bangladesh, Russia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, Cambodia, Taiwan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Senegal, El Salvador, Croatia, Finland, Portugal, Maldives, and Bhutan. Currently, the world's largest democracy, India, is in the midst of its electoral process.

The nations holding elections in 2024 span a broad spectrum of democratic maturity. Some, classified as "Not Free" in the 2023 Freedom House index, are firmly entrenched in authoritarianism, while others, deemed "Partly Free," have experienced significant setbacks in their democratic structures. In these countries, the election outcomes are largely predetermined and can be anticipated beforehand, highlighting the challenges facing the global democratic order.

As the year progresses, the world will watch with bated breath as these elections unfold, shaping not only the destinies of individual nations but also the trajectory of democracy on a global scale. The stakes have never been higher, and the need for vigilance, engagement, and a renewed commitment to democratic ideals has become paramount.

Additionally, there are some democratic nations where conservative ideologies are gaining traction in contrast to liberal political thought. Apart from that, due to economic crises, corruption, weaknesses in governance systems, and other factors, there is uncertainty surrounding the election results in certain countries. There are also some nations where elections will take place in a normal democratic environment.

Beyond these, the rulers of some countries under military rule or internal conflicts have also promised elections this year. However, it is difficult to predict the outcome of these elections or whether they will even take place. In Mali, a country in West Africa, the military government has already postponed the elections scheduled for March.

The crucial question now is, how have the elections that have taken place or will take place been conducted? Especially in countries where authoritarianism has already firmly established itself, or in nations where democratic structures and values have been undermined and authoritarianism is taking root, what role do these elections play? How much do they truly relate to democracy? Will these elections further erode the declining standards of democracy, or will they kindle new hope?

From a geopolitical perspective, the question of what role these elections will play in international politics, peace, and security is also significant. In this regard, perhaps the most important is the upcoming US election in November. Who wins the election will determine which path the US will take in future international politics. There is a vast difference between the potential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump when it comes to foreign policy.

Most US citizens believe that the future of democracy in the country also depends on the outcome of this election. This is what a poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicates. Around 62% of voters think that the outcome of the upcoming election could put US democracy at risk.

Douglas Brinkley, a renowned historian who researches the history of US presidents, believes that if Trump returns to the White House, it could mark the end of democracy in the US and the beginning of an authoritarian system of government. This sentiment underscores the high stakes and the profound implications of the 2024 US presidential election, not only for the nation itself but also for the global democratic order.

The fate of global democracy also hinges on the outcome of the US election. Professor Larry Diamond believes that Trump's return would not only test the foundations of American democracy but also embolden the authoritarian rulers entrenching themselves in different countries across the globe.

The elections that have taken place in the last four months in countries like Bangladesh, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Cambodia, Belarus, or Azerbaijan do not allow for optimism about the future of democracy. The electoral processes in these nations were either one-sided, controlled, excluded effective opposition parties, or continued repression against opponents. In some cases, a combination of these undemocratic strategies was employed.

In India, the world's largest democracy, only three phases out of seven have been completed in its elections so far. However, the tactics of spreading religious hatred seen from the ruling party after the first phase of voting indicate a continued erosion of India's electoral process and democratic values.

Across Europe, economic instability and issues like immigration have caused right-wing and populist ideologies to gain public support, which is not a good sign for the future of democracy. The right-wing parties have already performed well in the recent elections in Finland and Portugal, reflecting this concerning trend.

Read: How Social Media Could Sabotage 2024 Elections Around The World

Similar indications were seen in the Dutch elections last November as well. Many observers believe the right-wing will do well in the upcoming elections this year in Austria, Belgium, and Croatia. The same concern exists regarding the outcome of the European Parliament elections in June, which hold significant importance for international politics.

The pressing question is, why is democracy in such a dire state across countries? Kevin Casas-Zamora, the head of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in Sweden and former vice president of Costa Rica, has pointed out some reasons for this global democratic decline.

Reasons Contributing for Global Decline of Democracy 

According to Kevin Casas-Zamora, there are several reasons contributing to the global decline of democracy. First, he believes a perception has emerged that democracy cannot respond quickly enough to social demands and the needs of the people.

Second, there is an attitude of ignoring corruption, which undermines the integrity of democratic institutions and erodes public trust.

Third, with rising social anxiety and economic insecurity, there is a tendency among people to gravitate towards authoritarian personalities who promise strong leadership and decisive action.

Fourth, events like the Iraq invasion, economic crises, and Donald Trump's victory have undermined the moral authority of the West to advocate for democracy, leading to its current predicament.

This year, with over 70 countries holding elections, it should have been a year of celebration for democracy's well-wishers. However, the experience from the elections held in the last four months has set quite a bad precedent for democracy, making it difficult to be very optimistic about the upcoming polls.

As mentioned before, the election outcomes in countries ruled by authoritarians or semi-authoritarians (classified as "Not Free" and "Partly Free") are largely predetermined. The evidence of this has been seen in the elections held over the past four months, and it is difficult to hope for the opposite in the upcoming elections. Even in the few countries where competitive elections are expected, there are risks of irregularities and malpractices.

If the results in the EU Parliament and European countries, where fair elections are assumed, show a rise of the right-wing, and if Trump's victory is assured in the US in November, then it will complete the full downfall of democracy on a global scale.

2024 is truly a year of tough test for global democracy. However, the growing worldwide concern and anxiety over this decline of democracy may play a role in changing the current disappointing situation. Pre-poll predictions are also often overturned, and irregularities, malpractices, and one-sided election tactics frequently become ineffective in the face of a motivated and engaged electorate.

While democracy is going through a bad phase currently, considering history, there are sufficient reasons to remain hopeful. Because over time, democracy has consistently taken the world towards becoming more democratic and inclusive, despite periodic setbacks and challenges.

Lata Trivedi

Lata Trivedi

South Asian Correspondent

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