Democracy has long seemed the best route to ensuring both peace and prosperity — the only way to govern a civilised society.

But 2024 looks set to challenge that cosy assumption. Over the course of this year, almost half of the world’s population will head to the polls, as at least 64 countries, as marked here on our map, hold parliamentary and presidential elections — the largest number of elections in human history.

In some nations, ballots will arouse deep domestic tensions, hingeing perhaps on the economy, divisive social issues or immigration.

In others, voters will have to decide who they trust best to steer their nation to counteract threats posed by belligerent neighbours.

In Taiwan this weekend, voters will go to the polls intent on protecting their democracy and freedom while not provoking China into a blockade — or even an invasion — to retake an island that China sees as its own.

Yesterday, just 48 hours before the polls opened, China warned the Taiwanese of the ‘extreme danger’ of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which is likely to hold on to power, and expressed its hope that voters ‘will make the right choice at this crossroads of cross-Strait relations’.


Election date: January 13

Population: 23.57 million

Incumbent: Tsai Ing-wen

Likely candidate: Lai Ching-te (Democratic Progressive Party)

Currently: Centre-left

Likely to go: The same

Main election issues: Threat of Chinese invasion, cost of living, energy security

Potential effect: The DPP is the continuity choice and if their term continues, they will continue building strong links with foreign powers, especially the U.S. But analysts fear that military action from China is inevitable, despite America’s promise of support to Taiwan in case of incursion.


Election date: March 15-17

Population: 143.4 million

Incumbent: Vladimir Putin

Likely candidate: None. Ksenia Sobchak, a family friend, was allowed to ‘run’ as an opposition candidate in 2018 to give a veneer of legitimacy to the elections.

Currently: Dictatorship

Likely to go: The same

Main election issues: The war in Ukraine

Potential effect: The war will continue, with Putin’s ultimate aim being to eradicate the country. His reign of oppression and human rights abuses will continue — likely indulged by Donald Trump if he wins back the White House.


Election date: May-August

Population: 59.3 million

Incumbent: Cyril Ramaphosa

Likely candidate: John Steenhuisen (Democratic Alliance)

Currently: Centre-left

Likely to go: Centre

Main election issues: Energy crisis, crime, Cape independence

Potential effect: The ANC is looking at losing its majority for the first time since the end of apartheid.

A new generation idolises Nelson Mandela less and less and disdains the ANC’s dogmatic focus on unity rather than justice. A move away from the ANC could spell lower crime rates and lead to increased economic prosperity.


Election date: June 9

Population: 11.6 million

Incumbent: Alexander de Kroo

Likely candidate: Tom van Grieken (Vlaams Belang)

Currently: Centre-right

Likely to go: Right

Main election issues: Flemish independence, immigration, the European Council

Potential effect: Vlaams Belang want Flanders to separate into a fully-fledged independent state. Belgium’s presidency of the European Council coincides with the election, so inevitably the presidential election will influence the council. Belgium will be responsible for looking at the EU’s enlargement, deciding if it is ready to take on new members such as Ukraine and Moldova.


Putin (pictured in Khabarovsk, Russia on January 11) is expected to win the 2024 election

Putin (pictured in Khabarovsk, Russia on January 11) is expected to win the 2024 election

Despite a recent return to form on stage, Joe Biden's future in the White House is less clear

Despite a recent return to form on stage, Joe Biden’s future in the White House is less clear

Thousands of miles to the West, meanwhile, Ukraine remains under martial law — which in theory prohibits the presidential elections due this year, although some U.S. Republicans are demanding they go ahead (see box).

However, it is other voters who will most likely decide Kyiv’s fate. Putin is a shoo-in for re-election when Russia goes to the polls in mid-March, meaning the war will doubtless continue — in turn affecting support for President Volodymyr Zelensky as disillusionment with his leadership grows internally.

However, Putin may be feeling nervous about the fate of his most fervent backers among other world leaders as their voters go to the polls. Last year’s victory by the wildcard candidate in the Argentinian presidential elections, Javier Milei, was a blow to the ‘BRICS’ alliance.

The group, led by Russia and China, is a global economic bloc set up with the intention of replacing American-created institutions such as the World Bank as key players in the world economy.

Milei’s decision to withdraw Argentina from BRICS marked the first defection from the anti-Western group. And now in South Africa, another BRICS member, the African National Congress (ANC), risks falling out of power for the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The nation, mired in corruption scandals and a 30 per cent unemployment rate, is losing its faith in the ‘status quo’ party and turning away from Left-wing ideology.

In Europe, national elections and the European Parliament ballot in June may offer comfort to Putin — as will the likely re-run in November between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

America has long been seen as the model for a constitutional, state-protecting ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’. But the mud-slinging battle between these two geriatrics is potentially dangerous.

When the sitting president compares his opponent to ‘Hitler’ and the former president denounces his successor as the ‘head of a crime family’, they run a risk of igniting civil conflict even worse than the January 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.


Election date: September

Population: 8.96 million

Incumbent: Karl Nehammer

Likely candidate: Herbert Kickl (Freedom Party)

Currently: Right

Likely to go: Far-right

Main election issues: Immigration, the economy (inflation), Schengen

Potential effect: Previous Freedom Party campaigns have been based on cutting migration, even dubbing Covid the ‘asylum-seeker virus’. 

Kickl opposes EU sanctions, particularly against Russia. He’s ready to use Austria’s veto power to block sanctions against Russia, too.


Election date: March 10

Population: 10.2 million

Incumbent: Antonio Costa

Likely candidate: Luis Montenegro (Partido Social Democrata)

Currently: Centre-left

Likely to go: Centre-right

Main election issues: Unemployment, low salaries, government corruption

Potential effect: Analysts fear a post-election stalemate due to the rise of the far-right Chega party, which stands at around 16 per cent in the polls. PSD have ruled out an alliance with them but have formed a pre-election alliance with the Right-wing CDS-PP. Their refusal could prove dangerous, leading to either unstable government or a new round of elections entirely. A strong far-Right showing could mean Portugal distancing itself from the EU.

Herbert Kickl (pictured 2019) is the likely candidate in the Austrian elections, which could see new leadership block sanctions against Russia

Herbert Kickl (pictured 2019) is the likely candidate in the Austrian elections, which could see new leadership block sanctions against Russia

The war with Russia will remain top of the agenda in Ukraine for some time (pictured: President Zelensky after a meeting with the Lithuanian President in Vilnius, January 10, 2024)

The war with Russia will remain top of the agenda in Ukraine for some time (pictured: President Zelensky after a meeting with the Lithuanian President in Vilnius, January 10, 2024)

And personal antagonism is not the only issue. Huge swathes of American society are polarised over many social issues, while a post-pandemic precarious economic boom starkly recalls the era just before the 1929 Great Crash, which ushered in the Great Depression and the rise of the dictators in Europe.

Trump, with the strength of his Right-wing convictions, offers some degree of stability to Americans, but a victory for him means closer ties between the U.S. and Russia — and is bad news for Ukraine.

The Depression shunted Germany into the hands of the Nazis and in another worrying echo of the past, the collapse of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition can’t be ruled out. There have been widespread street protests, and disillusionment with immigration and environmental policies is growing.

The success of the hard-Right Alternative for Germany (AFD) in local elections suggests that the party is gaining significant traction and may even win the next election (where it would be part of a coalition). Once, an Austrian general election would have excited about as much interest in the UK as the opening of a supermarket. But the question of who will rule in Vienna could influence neighbouring Germany, given their common language and close ties, as well as affecting how the EU operates in Brussels — and, again, the war in Ukraine.

The front-runner in the Austrian opinion polls, the Right-wing Freedom Party, has a long history of flirting with Putin. If it heads a new Austrian government, it could add its vote in the EU to Hungary and Slovakia’s blockage of military backing for Ukraine.

Overall, then, 2024 looks set to test Winston Churchill’s observation that ‘democracy is the worst form of government — except for all those other forms that have been tried’.

Some alarming results should be expected — but we must remember that a genuine choice is infinitely preferable to the dictatorships that prevail in China, Russia, North Korea and beyond. 

  •  Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford


Election date: November-December

Population: 19.7 million

Incumbent: Klaus Iohannis

Likely candidate: George Simion (Alliance for the Union of Romanians)

Currently: Centre

Likely to go: Far-Right

Main election issues: Same-sex marriage, political disillusionment

Potential effect: It’s unlikely that the AUR will win, but their growth has been striking, gaining over 20 per cent support in polls. A coalition seems likely, meaning that the far-Right will be present in some shape or form. The AUR’s policies include withdrawing Romania from the EU.


Election date: November 5

Population: 331.9 million

Incumbent: Joe Biden

Likely candidate: Donald Trump (Republican)

Currently: Left

Likely to go: Either way

Main election issues: Abortion, LGBT rights, foreign policy

Potential effect: Trump is likely to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the UN Human Rights Council and undermine Nato. Trade tariffs would be raised for all countries to around 10 per cent. Military tensions would escalate, especially between the U.S. and Iran, and he has threatened to cut off aid to Ukraine.


Election date: Likely postponed

Population: 43.8 million

Incumbent: Volodymyr Zelensky

Likely candidate: None

Currently: Left

Likely to go: The same

Main election issues: The war with Russia

Potential effect: Elections are due to take place this year but bwill likely be suspended, as the country continues to be governed under martial law. But some far-Right U.S. Republicans are demanding that the elections go ahead, as a weakened democracy is a good excuse to block military aid.

The stalemate on the front line is frustrating for some Ukrainians, and tarnishing support for Zelensky. If elections were to take place, arrangements would have to be made for displaced citizens to cast their votes in their host countries.