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2024 is the biggest election year in history

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ISLAMABAD: In 2024, countries with more than half the world’s population—over four billion people—will send their citizens to the polls. But many elections are not fully free and fair. Some of these will have no meaningful influence on governments. Economist Intelligence Unit grades countries out of ten according to the state of their democracy and categorizes them from authoritarian regimes to hybrid regimes and democracies. In the most democratic countries, such as Britain, elections will decide the next government or cause a substantial change in policy.

For countries in between, such as India or the United States, elections still matter, and may even be free and fair. But other aspects of democracy, such as participation or governance, have weaknesses.

Some places, such as Brazil and Turkey, will not hold general elections in 2024 but have local or municipal elections in which the whole country will participate.

Similarly, the European Union’s 27 member states will elect the bloc’s next parliament. More people will vote in 2024 than in any previous year. But this great march to the ballot box does not necessarily mean an explosion of democracy.

According to our calculations, 76 countries are scheduled to hold elections in which all voters have the chance to cast a ballot in 2024. Of the 71 covered by EIU’s Democracy Index, 43 will enjoy fully free and fair votes (27 of which are EU members); the other 28 do not meet the essential conditions for a democratic vote. Eight of the ten most populous countries in the world—Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia and the United States—will hold elections in 2024. In half of these, elections are neither free nor fair and many other prerequisites of democracy, such as freedom of speech and association, are absent. Elections in Bangladesh, Mexico, Pakistan (all hybrid regimes, which combine elements of democracy and authoritarianism) and Russia are almost certain not to bring regime change.

Brazil, India, Indonesia and the United States, meanwhile, are classified by EIU as “flawed democracies”, meaning that elections are free, fair and allow for the possibility of change, but their political systems have weaknesses. In February in Indonesia, the most populous country in South-East Asia, the center-left PDI-P is likely to win the legislative and presidential elections. In India in May, Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP, the world’s biggest political party with more than 180m members, is likely to win despite rising anti-incumbent sentiment. And in Brazil in October municipal elections will reveal whether the left-wing Workers’ Party of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva can make gains at the expense of the right-leaning Liberal Party, which dominates congress and is backed by Lula’s right-wing predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.

Then in November voters in the United States will elect their next president, as well as the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. Of the five aspects of democracy that EIU measures—electoral process and pluralism; functioning of government; political participation; political culture; and civil liberties—America’s lowest score is for political culture. President Joe Biden is likely to face Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, in a repeat of 2020.