Mega election year | How will it affect India’s foreign policy?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss whether 2024 will be a year where domestic politics becomes the single biggest factor in foreign policy as more than 60 countries go to vote. 

Published - January 19, 2024 07:22 pm IST

Hello and Welcome to a whole new season of WorldView with me Suhasini Haidar. 

Take a look at that map of the world (see attachment) and you can see just why this is being called the year of elections- 64 countries in all will hold major presidential or parliamentary elections in 2024. 3 important ones for India have already been held: 

  1. Bhutan- a vote for change, but also continuity, as former PM Tshering Tobgay, who was PM from 2013-2018 was elected- he will be sworn in soon, and expected to make a visit to India
  2. Bangladesh – no change as Sheikh Hasina won a record-breaking 4th term in office. Her new Foreign Minister is due to visit India on February 7 
  3. Taiwan- where people voted back the anti-China Democratic Progressive Party and William Lai Ching-te to power, the question- will this hinder or hasten Beijing’s stated plans to “reunify or annex” Taiwan- an event that will no doubt lead to major conflict. 

While India welcomed the results in Bhutan and Bangladesh and congratulated winners, very guarded words from the MEA spokesperson on Taiwanese elections, given India does not recognize Taiwan, but has growing ties with Taipei: 

“Our position is that we have taken note of the recent developments in Taiwan. India has strong and growing people-to-people ties, cultural, educational, trade and investment links with Taiwan. Government of India facilitates these exchanges and looks forward to continuing them for shared prosperity and development.” 

What are some of the major elections still expected this year, apart from the biggest one,in India itself whose results could impact either ties with India or geopolitics in General- 

South Asia 

  1. Pakistan- February 8 – while it is clear that the most popular leader Imran Khan is in jail, and his party has now lost its election symbol- for India Nawaz Sharif’s expected win could open another effort to restart ties- remember PM Modi made his visit to Pakistan during Sharif’s tenure 
  2. Maldives Majlis- March 17- Given the rocky start to India-Maldives relations after President Muizzu was elected, and his visit to Beijing- New Delhi will hope that the national assembly or Majlis elections check the ruling coalition’s power, boosting the former PPM party. President Muizzu’s demand that India withdraw Troops by March 15 is also timed with elections 
  3. Sri Lanka- Presidential and Parliamentary polls due later this year- while it is unclear when they will be held, New Delhi will hope for continuity with an island where ties with India are often an election issue, although there’s bipartisan goodwill for India after its economic support last year 

P-5 and Big powers 

  1. Russia- March 15-17 –Elections are expected to hand President Putin another term, further solidifying his power. PM Modi is expected to travel to Moscow later in the year for the first summit of the expanded BRICS grouping- something the world will watch given its new power and energy heft.
  2. EU- June 6-9- European Union elections will decide the fate of many important issues- support for the Ukraine war, stand on Israel’s war on Gaza, immigration policies, trade negotiations, including with India, and stand on human rights issues 
  3. US- November 5- With the New Hampshire primaries next week, US election season is already kicking off- if the final contest is a re-match between President Biden and former President Trump, New Delhi and the world will need to prepare for a real dust-up 
  4. UK- December- British elections are due by the end of the year- Labour remains ahead of the ruling Conservatives at present, and India will watch most closely to see if it is possible to close the FTA deal with Sunak before elections.   

Finally, there are the Global South countries that count 

  1. Indonesia- February 14- President Jokowi isn’t standing but his son is running mate to the frontrunner Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto- if Prabowo doesn’t get 50% of the vote, there will be a run-off on June 26 
  2. Mexico- June 2- Mexico has a one term limit, so there will be a new face there no matter what 
  3. South Africa- Between May and August we will see Mandela’s ANC party fight its toughest election since the end of Apartheid. President Ramaphosa’s policies on BRICS, Global South, the ICJ case against Israel all hang in the balance.  

WV Take:  

  1. While democracy means much more than elections- these polls are important barometers of which way the world will turn on several global issues- from trade and climate change to conflicts and the international rule of law 
  2. With a larger number of democracies turning authoritarian, dissenters being jailed questions over EVMs, that are only used nationwide by 4 countries, personalization of bilateral ties and populism prevailing as policy worldwide, some might say democracy itself is on the ballot this year. 
  3. Foreign policies, once a matter of political consensus, are now a matter of swing- and it is more worrying for India when a change of government changes policies towards India, or turns in favour of another country like China. 

WV Reading Recommendation: 

  1. The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure by Yascha Mounk
  2.  Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends by Anne Applebaum 
  3. How to Stand Up to a Dictator by Maria Ressa 
  4. The Shortest History of Democracy by John Keane, also co-author of Killing Democracy, on India 
  5. The Age of The Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy around the World by Gideon Rachman 

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan

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