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The 10 biggest elections in 2024

​Turkish citizens voted in historic presidential and parliamentary elections in Diyarbakir, Turkey

Turkish citizens voted in historic presidential and parliamentary elections in Diyarbakir, Turkey

Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto

Buckle up for the most intense year of democracy the world has ever seen.

With at least 65 countries holding elections, 4.2 billion people – about half of the world's adult population – will have the chance to vote in 2024. To say that the world could shift on its axis this year would be an understatement.

We are going to break down the 10 most consequential elections in 2024, but first, let’s zoom out and look at the connections coursing through elections around the world.


Democratic decline. If you haven’t checked the weather lately, it's springtime for autocracy, nuclear winter for democracy.

The elections on the 2024 docket run the gambit for how democracy can be suppressed, from Tunisia performing rigged elections to Russia jailing rivals. But the majority of democracies are facing subtle erosion: 2022 marked the sixth consecutive year in which democracy declined in half of all countries.

What’s the most democratic country heading to the polls? Iceland, where it is so dang democratic even Colonel Sanders is reportedly throwing his hat in the ring. And the award for the least democratic election goes to … North Korea.

The X Factor. It's no secret that AI is developing faster than legislatures can regulate it. But in the absence of safeguards, the tools to create and spread misinformation are only getting stronger. At APEC, OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman warned of the dangers posed by AI image and video technology developing “fast and furious during an election year.”

Ahead of India’s last election, misinformation meant to disenfranchise Muslims spread on Twitter alleging that the ink used to mark voters' fingernails contained pig’s blood. History is being tempted to repeat itself, especially in places where lesser-known languages are spoken. X, Meta, and YouTube have all drastically reduced their content moderation teams and relaxed their election integrity policies.

The kids aren’t alright. Frustrated by aging leaders, climate change, and dysfunction, political apathy is on the rise among young voters worldwide.

In Africa -- where over 60% of the population is under age 25 -- people under 35 are 35% less likely to vote. Only 17% of voters under 30 are expected to show up to the polls in South Africa’s upcoming election (despite the country’s median age being 27.6 years old). And a declining youth vote could be a defining factor in the US presidential and EU parliamentary elections.

Time to zoom in. With so many countries voting and so much at stake, here are the 10 you need to know about.

Bangladesh

The small South Asian nation’s young democracy isn’t looking its healthiest ahead of Sunday’s vote, which the main opposition party is boycotting. Incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been accused of exercising increasingly autocratic power since she returned to office in 2008, including jailing her primary rival Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman.

The candidates:Hasina is by far the front-runner thanks to her electoral shenanigans and the opposition boycott, meaning she is all but certain to retain her position and majority in the legislature. Ghulam Muhammed Quader, a center-right candidate from outside both of the main two coalitions doesn’t look like much of a threat: During the last election in 2018, his party took just 5% of the vote to Hasina’s 75%.

Where things stand: Hasina will likely stay in power, so the key metric to gauge her mandate is turnout. Bangladesh historically has high poll attendance, near 75% for all elections since 1996, except for 2014, when, under similarly controversial circumstances, fewer than 40% of eligible voters cast a ballot.

Taiwan

Rather than hire a skywriter to remind Taiwan what’s at stake in their Jan. 13 election, China sent four balloons – spy balloons – to show that China looms large over the autonomous island’s election. Beyond cross-strait relations, kitchen table economic concerns and energy policy are key issues.

The candidates: The election has two major candidates with distinct views on China and the US.

Leading in the opinion polls is Taiwan’s current Vice President Lai Ching-te from the Democratic Progressive Party, who wants to strengthen ties to the US. Although Lai does not support Taiwanese independence, China calls him a “separatist” and has suggested his election could risk war.

China's favorite to win, Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih leads the opposition Kuomintang Party. The KMT is advocating for increasing cross-strait relations, while rejecting China’s “one country, two systems” model (as do most Taiwanese, after seeing what happened in Hong Kong). The KMT is capitalizing on China's threat of war to position itself as the safer bet, even blaming the DPP for Taylor Swift skipping Taiwan on her Eras tour.

Where things stand: Final polls show the DPP with a narrow but consistent lead, leading KMT by between 3 and 11 points. But it's still too soon to call it. Taiwan has a plurality voting system, so whichever candidate receives the most votes will become the president, whether or not they achieve a majority.

Pakistan

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: In Pakistan, it’s still the military that calls the shots. That said, Pakistan’s election (now set for Feb. 8) promises plenty of drama – and potential unrest.

Voters will fill all 342 seats in the lower House of parliament, most of which are in single-member constituencies. The remaining seats are awarded through a proportional, party-based allocation system. Critics charge that the military has done a bit of gerrymandering to shape the results.

The candidates: The country’s most popular politician, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, has pushed back against attempts to keep him and his PTI party off the ballot. But on Dec. 30, Pakistan’s election body ruled that Khan remains banned from politics and can’t run. Like many of his predecessors, Khan has spent time in power and then in jail, but he remains popular enough to galvanize support against military manipulation of the outcome.

Also in the running is former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, also once imprisoned for corruption, who has returned to the country after four years of exile in the UK. Sharif has also been banned from politics, but he now appears to have the backing of the same military that ousted him from power in 1999.

Finally, there is Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, representative of yet another political dynasty with more than its share of triumph, turmoil, and tragedy.

Where things stand: If the military allows this vote to take place, Sharif and his party are likely to win. The next question is how Khan and his supporters respond, perhaps in the streets.

Indonesia

The world’s third largest democracy will organize the largest single-day polls in 2024 on Valentine’s Day as candidates jostle over the legacy of outgoing President Joko Widodo (aka Jokowi), relations with China, and how the largest Muslim country in the world approaches the war in Gaza.

The candidates: The immensely popular Jokowi is term-limited, but his son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is running for vice president alongside current defense minister Prabowo Subianto.

They are running about 20 percentage points ahead of their main rivals with about 46.7% of voters supporting them pre-election. Ganjar Pranowo, governor of densely populated Central Java, is in second place with about 24% of the vote, and independent candidate Anies Baswedan is close behind at 21%.

Where things stand: There isn’t much daylight between the candidates on policy, as each attempt to outdo the others in their promises to continue Jokowi’s successful economic policies, continue balancing friendly relations with both Beijing and Washington, and support Palestinians amid the conflict in Gaza.

Should no candidate attain an outright majority of the votes next month, a second round will be held in June.

Mexico

Rather than watching a rerun of two geriatric white men in the US, focus on Mexico, where the victor is expected to be a woman for the first time in Mexican history.

The candidates: Claudia Sheinbaum, the progressive mayor of Mexico City, has been positioned by current President Andrés Manuel López “AMLO” Obrador to carry on the torch for the Morena Party. On the other side, former senator Xóchitl Gálvez, is energizing the opposition with her rags-to-riches story.

The two will duke it out to show voters they can jumpstart the economy, provide more social services, and take on the gangs and cartels that control nearly half of the country.

Where things stand: Right now, Sheinbaum is the decisive front-runner. But following in the incumbent president’s footsteps could be treacherous. AMLO is passing on a strong base of support to Sheinbaum, but also criticism for his administration militarizing the police and eroding democratic institutions. Sheinbaum’s major challenge will be articulating where she stands on AMLO’s legacy before the election on June 2.

European Union Parliament

It wouldn’t be the year of the election if the European Union didn’t raise the stakes and hold a supranational election across 27 member countries – the first since the UK left the bloc and Ukraine began membership discussions.

The EU Parliament has limited powers, but it can obstruct budgets, meaning this election could influence the fate of EU-wide projects like the green energy transition and Ukraine funding. The body will also approve the next European Commission president, with current leader Ursula von der Leyen of Germany set to run again.

The candidates: Between June 6 and 9, 720 representatives will be elected for five-year terms. The number of representatives per country is based on population, with Germany at the top with 96 and Cyprus at the bottom holding just 6 seats. Candidates are members of domestic political parties, which fall under broader cross-country coalitions.

The center-right European People’s Party holds the most seats, followed by the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats, and then the pro-business Renew Europe camp, the Greens.Newer far-right and Eurosceptic parties like Identity and Democracy and European Conservatives and Reformists are on the rise.

Where things stand: Turnout is predicted to be higher than usual thanks to controversial issues like Ukraine funding and the migration crisis, coupled with fears of the far right’s growing influence. The EPP and S&D lost their majority in 2019 thanks to the rise of these groups, which are expected to make further gains this year.

Venezuela:

Socialist strongman Nicolas Maduro has ruled for a decade, and it has not been a great one. The oil-rich country has suffered severe political crises, an economic collapse, mass emigration, and “maximum pressure” sanctions from the US. But the wily Maduro has hung on, and is eyeing re-election in 2024 (date tbd).

The candidates: Maduro, of course. And his likely opponent will be former opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado, who won a unified opposition primary last fall.

Where things stand: The US has recently eased oil sanctions on Caracas in exchange for vague promises that the vote will be “free and fair,” but it’s hard to see the still-unpopular Maduro taking his finger off the scales entirely. That sets up a dicey dilemma: If he rigs the vote again, he risks a snapback of sanctions and a fresh bout of popular anger. But if he keeps it clean, he could lose power to a re-energized opposition.

Tunisia

Tunisia, once the only Arab Spring success story, is now ruled by President Kais Saied with nearly unchecked authority, intensifying xenophobia, and alleged human rights abuses against migrants.

Over the summer, Tunisia inked a deal with the EU to reduce the flow of migrants through the Mediterranean Sea in exchange for a much-needed $1.1 billion in economic assistance.

The candidates: Saied has thrown the leading opposition figure, Rached Ghannouchi, in prison. The CEO of Tunisia’s national airline, Olfa Hamdi has declared he will run, but will likely join Ghannouchi in prison if he looks like a viable challenger to Saied’s power. If not, his candidacy will be an added layer of authenticity to the otherwise well-choreographed charade of an election expected sometime in the fall.

Where things stand: While Saied’s consolidation of power makes it likely he remains in power, his anti-democratic moves have provoked backlash and protests, especially from young Tunisians. In response, Saied is spurring nationalist sentiment through xenophobic “Great Replacement Theory”-esque rhetoric.

Tunisian authorities are accused of escalating violence against sub-Saharan African migrants, while the EU gives the country an economic lifeline for keeping them away from Europe’s shores.

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Thursday that he will call a national election in the second half of this year. The election will be Sunak’s first, and likely last, contest as the country’s premier.

The candidates: Since Brexit, the UK has shuffled through a revolving door of Conservative leaders (Sunak came to power after Liz Truss’s reign ended a week after she replaced Boris Johnson over his 2022 “Partygate” scandal”). Sunak has tried to turn voters' attention to the migrant crisis but has failed to deliver on his promise to stop small boats of migrants arriving on the south coast of England. His main opposition is Keir Starmer of the Labour Party.

Where things stand: Weakened from Brexit, buried under high inflation, and strained by a cost of living crisis, suffice to say that morale is low among Brits. And Sunak will likely pay the cost.

Conservatives are polling terribly, trailing behind Labour 22% to 44%. From those numbers, it's no surprise that Starmer is hounding Sunak to call for elections now, but Sunak will try to hold off for as long as possible in the hopes that the political tides turn.

US

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the US is due for a presidential election in November. While we are still in the midst of the Republican primary race, Donald Trump is the GOP’s front-runner and is expected to face off against President Joe Biden.

The candidates: On the Republican side, two weeks ahead of the first primary, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are battling for a distant second place behind Trump. Meanwhile, Trump is lightly campaigning while facing a litany of legal troubles, including 91 felony counts, two of which – at least for the moment – bar him from primary ballots in Colorado and Maine.

On the Democrats side, incumbent President Joe Biden will seek a second term. At 81, his age, as well as high prices and the situation in the Middle East, are hurting his popularity.

Where things stand: With the election 11 months away, the number of moving parts makes prediction a fool's errand. All that’s sure is that everything from the trajectory of US foreign policy to faith in American institutions will be on the ballot in November.

And there are some big “maybe” elections to watch for as well.

Can Ukraine hold an election during a war?

While there’s little to say about the upcoming Russian presidential election except “Putin will win,” Ukraine is another matter. Believe it or not, it’s been five years since a comedy actor who played a TV president was elected to run the country.

The next vote is due in March, but with the war still raging, more than a fifth of the country under foreign occupation, and millions of Ukrainians now living abroad as refugees, is it even possible to hold a legitimate vote? Zelensky has suggested it’s not, and most Ukrainians seem to agree. But he’s also faced criticism from some US Republicans who have cited his reluctance to face voters as a further reason to cut funding for Kyiv.

Israel: Bye-bye Bibi?

The next parliamentary election in Israel is set for October 2026, but it’s possible that the Jewish state could see a change in leadership before then.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the country’s longest-serving leader, but he isn’t particularly popular at the moment. Bibi faces blame for security failures surrounding the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, an ongoing corruption trial, and outcry over judicial reforms. Even though the country is in the midst of a war with Hamas, most Israelis say they want Bibi to resign (this would trigger new elections).

That said, Bibi has forcefully dismissed the idea of stepping down. Another option to remove him before 2026 would be a vote of no-confidence, which would require 61 members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Netanyahu’s government survived no-confidence votes in March 2023. Israel’s attorney general could also deem Bibi unfit for office, but there aren’t any signs this will happen anytime soon. For now, at least, he appears to be staying put.

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