20240630 voter in paris
A voter casts their ballot, during the French parliamentary elections at a polling station in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France Image Credit: Reuters

The world is witnessing an unprecedented “supercycle” of elections in 2024, with over 3 billion people in more than 70 countries heading to the polls. National elections have taken place or will take place in France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, as well as India, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, and Pakistan, whose collective populations total over 2 billion.

These elections occur against a backdrop of global instability. Geopolitical tensions such as the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and strained relations between China and the US involve distrust among major powers, who are competing to determine the world order.

Exacerbating the instability are economic uncertainties, driven by global inflation, fluctuating energy markets, and national debt crises in countries such as Argentina and Lebanon. A widespread crisis of confidence in public institutions, fuelled by corruption scandals, ineffective governance, and the spread of misinformation, has further eroded trust in traditional democratic processes.

Several critical elections have already unfolded this year, offering a mixed bag of results.

• In South Korea’s 22nd general election held on April 10, main opposition Democratic Party (DP) secured a majority in the National Assembly with 175 seats, surpassing the ruling People Power Party, which won 108 seats. The voter turnout was the highest in 32 years at 67%. The election’s outcome is likely to intensify political polarisation and complicate President Yoon Suk Yeol’s efforts to govern.

• On May 29, South Africa’s African National Congress lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 30 years. This decline is attributed to voter dissatisfaction with scandals, economic stagnation, and infrastructure issues. This uncertainty impacted financial markets, with the rand falling and equity indices dropping.

• In Mexico, Claudia Sheinbaum, the chosen successor of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, secured a strong majority in the June 2 election. Sheinbaum’s victory marked a historic milestone as she became the first female president of Mexico, a significant step forward for gender equality in Mexican politics. It also highlighted the effectiveness of anticorruption campaigns and public dissatisfaction with the status quo.

• In the June 30 French legislative elections, the far-right National Rally surged to first place with over 33.1% of the votes. This marked a historic success for the party, which had never before topped the first round of voting and nearly doubled its support from 2022. President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ensemble coalition suffered significant losses, garnering just under 21% of the vote.

The elections indicated a major shift in French politics, with the traditional centre-right Republicans securing only 6.6% of the vote. However, in the second round on July 7, the RN fell short of an absolute majority, securing 138-145 seats. The left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) won the most seats, with 177-192, thanks to a strategic voting alliance with Macron’s camp to block the far right. Despite RN’s historic gains, political gridlock is likely as no party holds a majority.

Fall of the Anglosphere

Britain went to the polls on July 4 while the US holds its elections for president, Senate and Congress on Nov. 6th. The results of these races will have profound implications domestically but also in international relations. Beyond their positions on the UN Security Council, the UK and US are key players in Nato and other security alliances. Their electoral outcomes will affect defence policies, military engagements, and global security strategies.

The countries also have sway in global markets, so shifts in economic strategy could disrupt world finances and influence international trade dynamics.

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In the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government faced a critical test with issues such as the aftermath of Brexit, economic recovery, and the National Health Service at the forefront. Labour leader Keir Starmer is the new PM. The election results reflect a strong desire for change amid economic struggles and increasing distrust in institutions, leaving the Conservative Party in disarray and prompting a leadership contest to replace Sunak.

In the US, the presidential election will be a referendum on President Joe Biden’s first term. Recent ABC News/Ipsos polling shows that 88% of Americans consider the economy as crucial to their voting decision, with nearly half citing it as the most important issue. Other key concerns include health care, immigration, and climate change. The potential re-election campaigns of Joe Biden and Donald Trump could further polarise an already divided nation.

Modern electoral interference

In countries with a history of electoral violence, such as Kenya, Nigeria, Honduras, Venezuela and Haiti, ensuring the safety of voters and poll workers is paramount. There are numerous reports from previous elections in these regions of intimidation tactics, violence at polling stations, and coercion.

The stark economic inequalities in many societies mean that elections can often reflect the preferences of the wealthy, rather than the needs of the majority. Rich donors and corporations often fund candidates or action committees that align with their interests. In the US, the Koch Brothers, two prominent businessmen, have funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars into conservative and libertarian political causes.

With elections in major powers and emerging economies, the interplay of voter sentiment, political instability, and external influences underscores the complex and often volatile nature of contemporary global politics.

Dr Kristian Alexander is a Senior Fellow and Lead Researcher at the Rabdan Security & Defense Institute (RSDI), Abu Dhabi, UAE