A man casts his ballot at a polling station during Bangladesh's General Elections in Dhaka on Jan. 7, 2024. Bangladesh, kicking off a year in which billions of people will vote in national elections. [Via VOA]

2024 will pose a major test of democratic rule as an estimated 4 billion people in more than 50 nations — almost half the world’s population — are set to vote in national elections, with the outcomes likely to shape global politics for years or decades to come.

Bangladesh began 2024 with the first major election of the year as Sheikh Hasina won a fourth consecutive term as prime minister Sunday. Opposition parties boycotted the vote over complaints that it was neither free nor fair.

A crucial presidential election will take place on the self-governing island of Taiwan on January 13. China’s threat to retake the island by force looms over the vote, with political parties divided on how to approach Beijing.

“We are not only choosing Taiwan’s future leaders to decide on the country’s future but also deciding on the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region,” William Lai, the presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, told supporters at a campaign rally earlier this month. Lai is ahead in the polls.

In 2024, national elections will be held in more than 60 countries representing half the world’s population.

In February, Indonesia is set to choose a new president to rule the nation of 277 million people, making it one of the world’s biggest votes held on a single day.

Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections in February; opposition leader and former Prime Minister Imran Khan remains jailed on charges of leaking state secrets, which he denies.

Russians will vote in presidential elections in March — although observers predict incumbent Vladimir Putin is all but certain to win as he can control the electoral process and state media.

“Putin is not going to have any genuine opponents,” said Ian Bond of the Center for European Reform. “He has control of all the administrative machinery required to make sure that a crushing vote in favor of him is delivered and we get another six years of Putin up to at least 2030.”

Largest democracy

India — the world’s biggest democracy — will hold parliamentary elections in April and May, with the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ahead in the polls.

Veteran Indian political journalist Pushp Saraf believes the opposition will struggle to make headway.

“It all depends how united they are," Saraf said. "Otherwise, if they stay disunited, as they appear to be many times, they have little chance of succeeding against BJP, which is organizationally very strong, and with Narendra Modi, who is riding high on the popularity wave, at least in the Hindi heartland.”

“These are very significant elections because there are clearly two opinions in the country at the moment. One is that BJP is polarizing society along the communal lines. And on the other hand, there is the opinion that BJP is focusing more on national security,” Saraf told The Associated Press.

World Elections 2024

On June 2, Mexico is due to hold its presidential election, which could herald a new milestone for the country, “because of the possibility that, for the first time, a woman will govern Mexico,” according to Mexican pollster Patricio Morelos. Mexico's ruling party has selected Claudia Sheinbaum, a former mayor of Mexico City, as its candidate.

The European Union, representing more than half-a-billion people, is set to hold parliamentary elections in June. Polls suggest a resurgence in support for right-wing populist parties in many countries, including France, Germany and Italy.

“There is a real possibility, I think, that the far right will do well in European elections. Not to the point of running the European Parliament, but conceivably to the point where anyone who wants to run the European Parliament has to take account of what they’re saying and doing,” Anand Menon, professor of international politics at Kings College London, told VOA.

Britain is scheduled to hold elections before the end of the year, with polls suggesting opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is on course to end a tumultuous 14 years of Conservative rule, with five different prime ministers.

“We had the Brexit wars that dominated everything, then COVID-19, and now we’ve got the cost-of-living crisis. We’ve had government instability… the instability itself has become a political issue,” Menon said.

On November 5, the United States is due to hold a highly anticipated presidential election as Americans decide whether to give Democrat Joe Biden a second term as U.S. president or choose a Republican alternative, with Donald Trump seemingly his most likely opponent — although the challenger faces numerous legal hurdles in the run-up to the vote.

Worldwide effects

The impact of many of these elections in 2024 will likely be felt worldwide, said analyst Menon.

“Yes, all politics is local — but there are global trends. Immigration is going to figure a lot in many elections around the world. It will figure in the U.S. election, it will figure in the European elections, it will figure in the U.K. election,” Memon said.

“Insecurity will be a major factor. One of the things we’re living in the West now is an increased sense of insecurity, both economic — but also in security terms, given the war that’s going on in Ukraine and given the doubts about what the Taiwanese election later this month might mean for Taiwan-Chinese relations.

“So, there are common factors, but those are refracted through the prism of the local and domestic in each country, so they play out in different ways,” Menon said.