IT’S a year when billions will cast a vote – yet it may prove a dark one for democracy.
Around half the world’s population, a record 4billion people, go to the polls in 2024, including the USA, EU and the UK.
APBritish PM Rishi Sunak has pencilled in a General Election for the second half of the year[/caption]
PALabour leader Sir Keir Starmer hopes to capitalise of the failings of the current Tory Government[/caption]
APFormer Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney, an arch critic of Trump, said the US was ‘sleepwalking into dictatorship’[/caption]
AFPTrump, ahead of incumbent Joe Biden in the polls, has talked about weaponising the justice department against his critics and enemies[/caption]
Yet experts believe the freedoms and rule of law that underpin democracy are in grievous retreat across the globe.
While billions will cast their votes in more than 60 nations, some will have more choice than others.
His main opposition rival, Alexei Navalny, still languishes behind bars on trumped-up charges.
Belarus’s exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has demanded a boycott of February’s vote, describing the campaign as “a ritual without meaning and justice”.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for “fervent” elections when his nation votes in parliamentary elections in March.
Yet candidates are vetted and moderates and reformers weeded out.
Little wonder that 2024’s Year of Elections has also been labelled the Year of the Despots.
Daniel Kelemen, professor of public policy at Georgetown University in Washington DC, told Politico digital newspaper: “It’s absolutely legitimate to be very worried about the state of democracy in the world.
“Democracy is being challenged everywhere, not just in places that rank poorly on surveys of democratic values but also in established democracies like the United States and the European Union.”
In the Land of the Free, a resurgent Donald Trump has told voters he’ll be a dictator only on “day one” if he wins.
Trump pledged last month that he would close the US border with Mexico and expand oil drilling on the initial day of his second presidential term.
“We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator,” he insisted.
‘Closing the border’
History suggests dictators rarely cede control after wielding absolute power.
Trump, ahead of incumbent Joe Biden in the polls, has also talked about weaponising the justice department against his critics and enemies.
And he has toyed with the idea of firing civil servants and replacing them with loyalists.
Former Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney, an arch critic of Trump, said the US was “sleepwalking into dictatorship”.
The current custodian of the free world, a doddery Joe Biden, is trailing Trump in the polls.
He appears to lack the vigour to rally pro- democratic forces across the globe
While jackboots aren’t echoing on European cobblestones once more, commentators have been regurgitating the words of President George W Bush’s former speech writer.
David Frum, an anti-Trump Republican, once memorably wrote: “If liberals insist that only fascists will enforce borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals refuse to do.”
In Europe it is a hotchpotch of populists and far-right politicians who are predicted to top polls across the continent in June’s EU Parliamentary elections. Many are Eurosceptic.
In his New Year’s Eve address Macron said French voters would have to choose between “continuing Europe or blocking it”.
EPAIn March, Vladimir Putin will use the fig leaf of democracy to crown himself as Kremlin dictator for a further six years[/caption]
President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-AddoRex
ReutersFrench President Emmanuel Macron is trailing in the polls to far right leader Marine Le Pen[/caption]
APIran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for ‘fervent’ elections when his nation votes in parliamentary elections in March[/caption]
GettyBelarus, ruled by despot Alexander Lukashenko, will hold bogus elections this year for its parliament and local councils[/caption]
Leader Alice Weidel says her party wants to turn the EU into “a fortress” against migrants “to protect our homeland”.
She believes the EU is “deeply undemocratic and overreaching,” and wants “a Europe of fatherlands” with powers returning to nation states.
In his victory speech, Wilders vowed to tackle what he called the “asylum tsunami” hitting the Netherlands.
Since then, Wilders’ party has soared in the polls by five percentage points.
He has called for a referendum on Nexit — the Netherlands quitting the EU.
On the same day as the EU elections, neighbouring Belgium is also holding a General Election.
Rise of Europe’s far right
Mounting concerns over immigration has seen a surge in polling for the far-right Vlaams Belang party, which wants to break up Belgium.
It wants Flanders — the Dutch-speaking north, to separate from French-speaking Wallonia in the south.
Its leader, Tom Van Grieken, said: “We believe Belgium is a forced marriage. If one of them wants a divorce, we’ll talk that out as adults . . . we have to come to an orderly division.
“If they don’t want to come to the table with us, we’ll do it unilaterally.”
Far right or populist parties are also expected to do well in Italy, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Slovakia and Cyprus.
Some on Europe’s far right, including Germany’s AfD, are keen to scrap economic sanctions on Russia.
Putin will be rubbing his hands with glee if the European Parliament has more politicians backsliding on the West’s support for Ukraine.
A key early poll is Taiwan’s presidential race on January 13. The result may inflame tensions between the US and China.
Poll leader Lai Ching-te, representing the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, says he wants to maintain the current status quo where Taiwan is not formally independent from China.
But the Chinese — who believe Taiwan is a breakaway province — say he is a dangerous separatist and have ramped up military pressure on the island.
There are fears the US could be dragged into armed conflict if China should invade.
Hailed as the world’s biggest democracy, more than a billion people are eligible to vote in this year’s Indian general election.
AFPIndian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is blamed for a deterioration of civil liberties[/caption]
APBotswana’s President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabatswe Masisi[/caption]
GettyAlice Weidel, co-leader of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party[/caption]
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate, Lai Ching-teGetty
Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, Prime Minister of PakistanRex
Yet US-based watchdog Freedom House downgraded India from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy” this year.
The Sweden-based V-Dem Institute called it an “electoral autocracy”.
They blame Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP government for a deterioration of civil liberties.
Critics say that under Modi, there has been a spate of attacks against Muslims, intimidation of journalists and pressure on human rights groups.
While in neighbouring Pakistan Munizae Jahangir, from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said: “At this point there is little evidence to show that the upcoming elections will be free, fair or credible.”
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan and most other members of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party have been kept off the ballot by the country’s Electoral Commission.
Human rights activist Farhatullah Babar said the decisions amounted to “apparent pre-poll rigging”.
In an age of disinformation, democracy is becoming ever more fragile.
A worrying report last year found that half the world’s countries are suffering democratic decline.
Watchdog the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) said problems include flawed elections and rights such as freedoms of expression being curtailed.
IDEA said it was the sixth year in a row in which countries with declining democratic standards outnumbered those that had improved.
And it appears it is the young who are least tied to hard-fought democratic freedoms.
A survey by Open Society Foundations of more than 36,000 people across 30 countries last year found 86 per cent would rather live in a democracy.
Yet, staggeringly, 42 per cent of those aged 18 to 35 said that a military regime or an authoritarian leader is a good way to govern a country.
And 35 per cent of young people believed a “strong leader” who did not hold elections or consult parliament was “a good way to run a country”.
Perhaps they haven’t sufficiently studied their history books.
For as billions queue for the voting booth this year, democracy itself is on the ballot paper.
He readily admitted that democracy wasn’t “perfect or all-wise”.
Yet in a famous quote he added: “Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”
AFPThere has been a surge in polling for the far-right Vlaams Belang party, which wants to break up Belgium – pictured Tom Van Grieken[/caption]
AFPSouth African President and president of the African National Congress (ANC) Cyril Ramaphosa[/caption]
President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro posing for his offcial photoAlamyLeave a comment