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A Make-or-Break Year for Democracy Worldwide

January 4, 2024

Published by TIME from ASTHA RAJVANSHI and YASMEEN SERHAN on January 4, 2024

This is a banner year for elections. In 2024, an astonishing 2 billion people—half of the world’s adult population—will be participate in more than 75 national elections this year. Some have even called it democracy’s “Super Bowl.”

On its face, this may seem like democracy’s golden year, but illiberal candidates are likely to win in many countries. Worse still, many eligible voters take a dim view of democracy itself. More than half of Americans can’t or won’t identify a single strength of our political system. And around the world, only 57 percent of younger adults feel that democracy is preferable to other forms of government.

Increasingly, people view democracy in the same way Americans view their likely presidential nominees: not as stalwart and time-tested, but brittle and outdated.

This is a precarious time for a year as pivotal as 2024. Taiwan’s recent presidential race will impact the risk of wider conflict with China. Indonesia’s February elections may reveal cracks in its capacity to transfer power. India’s elections—the world’s biggest—could propel it further down a path of Hindu strong-arm nationalism. South Africa will decide whether it ousts the party of Nelson Mandela three decades after the end of apartheid. Pakistan faces its first general election since its prime minister was removed and arrested, and Sri Lanka its first since its government collapsed.

Of course, democratic elections don’t necessarily mean democratic outcomes. Electing illiberal leaders by democratic means is not a new phenomenon, but we are witnessing the rise of more candidates willing to play fast and loose. Russia and North Korea will both hold elections this year, but the outcome will not bring an upset. Ukraine election due to martial law, a sobering reminder that the cadences of democracy can too easily become casualties of war. Twenty twenty-four’s elections will be held as conflicts rage, climate disasters accelerate, and strongmen surge to take advantage of the chaos.

So it’s no surprise that this year, the word “democracy” is being uttered like a prayer—and more precisely, a Hail Mary. President Joe Biden has called Donald Trump a “threat to democracy” and cast himself as its last, best hope. (Trump, who has threatened to lock up his opponents if reelected, called Biden the “true destroyer of democracy.”) Around the world, 2024 has already been dubbed the year that democracy itself is on the ballot.

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