The World Is Watching U.S. Elections. Here's What Americans Should Be Watching.

This year could be pivotal for democracy around the world.
While all eyes are on the upcoming U.S. presidential election, there are several other races around the world you should pay attention to.
While all eyes are on the upcoming U.S. presidential election, there are several other races around the world you should pay attention to.
Illustration: Jianan Liu/HuffPost; Photo: Getty Images

2024 is a high-stakes year for democracy ― and we’re not just talking about the United States. It’s possible that over 4 billion people among dozens of countries could have the chance to cast a vote this year. Whether all those elections are free and fair is a different question.

“We’re very concerned about the quality of democracy around the world. There’s been a number of countries where things are moving not in the right direction, including in the U.S.,” David Carroll, director of the Carter Center’s Democracy Program, which oversees election monitoring around the world, told HuffPost.

While many people around the world are paying close attention to a possible rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, HuffPost spoke to experts to learn more about the world elections that Americans should keep an eye on. The list is long, but here are 11 elections to get you started.

Taiwan — Jan. 13

The Taiwanese people went to the polls Saturday for presidential and legislative elections that were closely watched by both the U.S., one of Taiwan’s biggest supporters on the world stage, and China, which poses a threat but is also the self-governing island’s largest trading partner.

“The biggest irritant in U.S.-China relations across the decades has been Taiwan,” said Andrew Scobell, a distinguished fellow with the China program at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “And in essence, Taiwan is ground zero in U.S.-China competition, the most likely location and spark of a possible conflict between between the U.S. and China.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping late last month called Taiwan’s reunification with China “an inevitable course of development” that is popular with the people.

Tensions appeared to be high ahead of the race. Taiwan accused China of flying spy balloons over the island, a practice that they described as psychological warfare, and claimed Beijing was trying to interfere in the vote.

Lai Ching-te, the candidate who China opposed, won the election to succeed President Tsai Ing-wen, who was barred from seeking reelection due to term limits.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen joins hands with the presidential candidate of ruling Democratic Progressive Party Lai Ching-te during a campaign rally ahead of Taiwan's presidential elections in Taipei on Jan. 11.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen joins hands with the presidential candidate of ruling Democratic Progressive Party Lai Ching-te during a campaign rally ahead of Taiwan's presidential elections in Taipei on Jan. 11.
Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images

Lai, who served as vice president in Tsai’s administration and led the Democratic Progressive Party’s ticket, supports maintaining the status quo, while his main opponent, Hou Yu-ih of the Nationalist Party, was seen as having closer ties to Beijing. Taiwan People’s Party candidate Ko Wen-je, who Bloomberg previously called “the wild card,” reportedly argued that he was the only choice that both China and the U.S. could live with, according to The Associated Press.

Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Scobell told HuffPost he didn’t expect a major shift in Taiwan’s foreign policy, no matter which candidate wins.

“What matters more is the perception in Beijing,” he said. “And that’s different.”

Scobell explained that Xi appears to believe a Lai victory would move Taiwan “further down the road to de facto and de jure independence,” and therefore his win could eventually trigger a response from Beijing.

Pakistan — Feb. 8

The U.S. has been quiet on the democratic decline in the world’s fifth most populous country. Now Pakistan is meant to be holding elections that have been widely criticized as neither free nor fair — if they even happen at all.

The most popular candidate, legendary cricket player and former Prime Minister Imran Khan, has been jailed on corruption charges, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has been “decimated under intense pressure from the establishment,” Madiha Afzal, foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, told HuffPost in an email. Khan was ousted by military powers who backed him for office and then turned on him.

Another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has returned to the country after living in exile in London due to corruption charges. He now appears to be the candidate favored by the country’s military establishment.

The run-up to the election has been rife with legal battles, protests, violence and armed attacks on campaigners. Carroll, of the Carter Center, said it would be too difficult to get enough election observers on the ground there to be effective, due to the security situation.

“The conduct of election day and the outcome is hugely significant,” Afzal said. “It will determine whether there’s anything to be salvaged from what remains of Pakistan’s democracy, or whether its current democratic experiment is effectively over.”

The Biden administration’s response will also be notable. “If Sharif does win, and Biden does call, that will open up him up to charges of hypocrisy in Pakistan — and likely give fodder to the conspiracy theory that America wanted Khan out,” Afzal said.

Portugal — March 10

Portugal will hold a snap election in March following the shock resignation last year of António Costa, the country’s longest-serving prime minister. Costa stepped down after his official residence was raided in connection with a corruption investigation into him and other officials.

His center-left Socialist Party, which has appointed new leader Pedro Nuno Santos, appears to be only one percentage point ahead of the center-right Social Democrats in the polls, according to Politico. Meanwhile, the Social Democrats recently formed an alliance with the small right-wing CDS-PP party in hopes of bolstering their chances of victory.

António Costa Pinto, a professor at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon, told HuffPost one of the reasons the Social Democrats made the deal was to peel away support for the far-right Chega party and bring “some voters of the populist radical right back into the conservative democratic spectrum.”

Most analysts are watching the race for the rise of Chega ― which is projected to win about 15%, more than doubling its vote share from the 2022 election ― and to see whether it would potentially join a right-wing coalition government if offered the opportunity.

While the Social Democrats have so far ruled out partnering with Chega, a lot will depend on the election result.

If Chega wins “around 15% of MP seats in parliament, that means that they will be indispensable to form a right-wing cabinet,” Costa Pinto said.

Russia — March 15-17

It is all but certain that incumbent President Vladimir Putin will win Russia’s upcoming election. But it’s still worth monitoring the race, “because it can tell us so much about the nature of the political regime in that country,” Ben Noble, an associate fellow of Chatham House, told HuffPost.

Putin is reportedly trying to beat the turnout and approval rating he got in the 2018 presidential election to project confidence and a sense that things are looking up for the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to the media after the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Sept. 16, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to the media after the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Sept. 16, 2022.
Sergei Bobylev/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via Associated Press

But Noble warned that Putin could be setting himself something of a trap, as many Russians could feel unmotivated to go to the polls given the predictable outcome and the absence of any serious challengers.

Another thing to watch following the vote is the possibility of Putin feeling emboldened to make decisions that are unpopular, such as increasing the level of mobilization as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.

The Kremlin is already struggling to respond to a grassroots movement made up of wives, mothers and other family members of men who were called up to fight in the conflict in September 2022, who want them to return home. One of the challenges lies with the fact that many of those who are part of the movement used to be loyal to Putin.

With regard to Russia’s strategy in Ukraine, much will depend on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

“Once [the Kremlin] knows whether it is going to have Donald Trump or Joe Biden or somebody else in the White House, then it will be able to make longer-lasting decisions regarding its next steps in the war,” Noble said.

India — between April and May

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is looking to extend his rule over the world’s most populous country in this year’s election, where he is likely to secure a third term in office. His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won three of the four state elections that took place at the end of last year, giving his party momentum ahead of the upcoming general election.

“The general sense is that a BJP win is almost an inevitability at this stage,” Neelanjan Sircar, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research think tank, told The Guardian in December. “The question is more: what factors will shape the scale of the victory?”

The main opposition party, Indian National Congress, has struck an alliance with other smaller parties to compete against the BJP in the general election. The New York Times said this showed “the acceptance of an evident truth: that Congress cannot win a fight alone” against Modi’s party.

Modi has been in power since 2014. He has an approval rating of 77%, which puts him at the top of the Morning Consult’s Global Leader Approval Rating Tracker.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the inauguration of the Global Trade Show ahead of the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2024 in Gandhinagar on Jan. 9.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the inauguration of the Global Trade Show ahead of the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2024 in Gandhinagar on Jan. 9.
Punit Paranjpe via Getty Images

While India’s economy has grown under Modi’s rule, human rights groups say he has sought to stifle critics, crack down on religious minorities and limit press freedom, among other things. The government raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai last February, following the release of a documentary critical of Modi. They also restricted the two-part series and ordered its removal from social media platforms, including X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

How India’s government proceeds on human rights could also affect its economy, Yamini Aiyar, chief executive of the Centre for Policy Research, told the Financial Times. The country has benefited from the “China plus one” approach, which has seen some companies trying to diversify their supply chains and reduce their dependency on Beijing.

“The reason you move to ‘China plus one’ is because of the undemocratic and opaque power structure in China,” Aiyar said. “If India loses this piece, it will have huge repercussions in the long run.”

South Africa — between May and August

South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, will face a major test in elections where a young, apathetic populace could fail to turn out in big numbers. The party that brought in Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994 has seen its support fall to 50%, amid voter disenchantment with the government’s handling of joblessness, power blackouts and crime.

This means the ANC, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, could be forced into forming a coalition. If the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, gets the highest share of the vote, it will almost certainly have to form a coalition with smaller parties.

South Africa and the U.S. have traditionally had an “acrimonious” relationship as the U.S. supported the former apartheid regime. “However, they do find one another, they do work. So it is in the U.S. interest to watch the ANC,” Tshidi Madia, head of politics at the South Africa-based Eyewitness News, told HuffPost.

“South Africa and the U.S. clash over many issues,” Madia said. “They clash over Israel, the Middle East conflict. They definitely clash over the Russia and Ukraine conflict as well, because South Africa has a very strong relationship with Palestine and with Russia.”

But Africa is “the untapped market” and South Africa is “the gateway to the continent,” Madia said, meaning America can’t afford to ignore what happens there.

“The other interesting thing that I think is worth noting is there’s been an uptake of Black Americans moving and relocating,” Madia said. “They’re finding South Africa to be cheaper, there’s more bang for your buck here for them. So they’re finding it easier to relate to communities, and I think that it’s of interest for those people.”

Mexico — June 2

People in Mexico are set to go to the polls this summer in an absolutely massive election. More than 20,000 positions across the country are at stake, including the presidency — and as the front-runners of the two leading parties are both women, it’s set to be a history-making vote as well.

Claudia Sheinbaum, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s pick from their Morena party, is currently leading over Xóchitl Gálvez, who is representing opposition parties.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador raises the hand of Claudia Sheinbaum, the ruling party's candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, during a ceremony to give her the party's command staff on Sept. 7.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador raises the hand of Claudia Sheinbaum, the ruling party's candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, during a ceremony to give her the party's command staff on Sept. 7.
Marco Ugarte via Associated Press

“The U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship, I think, is the one that is most impactful on the daily lives of Americans,” Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, told HuffPost.

The U.S.-Mexico border is nearly 2,000 miles long, and “in terms of trade, in terms of migration and in terms of the flows of drugs, particularly fentanyl,” collaboration across the border “is essential,” Rudman said. There are four possible permutations of leaders after elections this year, and ”there is no question that the next U.S. and the next Mexican president and their administration have to collaborate in order to address those three big challenges.”

Other big opportunities for collaboration include dealing with climate change and the energy transition. Then, of course, there is the 2026 World Cup, which will be held across the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

European Parliament — June 6-9

The rise of the far right is one of the main things to watch in this year’s European Parliament elections.

The 705-seat body is directly elected by the citizens of the European Union in each member state every five years. It’s in charge of passing laws and ruling on enlargements, among other things.

The far-right Identity and Democracy group, which includes Matteo Salvini’s Lega party in Italy and Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, is expected to come third by winning 90 seats, increasing its present share by 14 seats, according to Politico’s Poll of Polls.

“At the European level, this is by far the most consequential election,” Mujtaba Rahman, the managing director of Eurasia Group, Europe, told HuffPost, noting that the results will also affect the domestic politics of several EU member states, including France.

In France, the result is likely to be interpreted as a “midterm referendum” on President Emmanuel Macron’s time in office, Rahman said, as his party is expected to come in second to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party. Similarly, in Germany, a strong performance by the AfD in 2024 local elections, and a potential decrease in support for the Greens and the Socialists in the European Parliament elections, could further hurt Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government.

“One big consequence of these European elections, I think, will be a further weakening of leaders in France and Germany in their ability to lead the EU,” Rahman said.

Nathalie Tocci, director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali think tank, said the policy implications of a strong performance by the far right in the European Parliament elections would become clear after the U.S. presidential vote.

Tocci noted that a Trump win in November could embolden any far-right leaders in Europe who’d done well in June’s elections.

“Their mask would come off,” she told HuffPost.

Mongolia — June 28

Mongolia, a democratic country of 3.2 million people, is set to hold an election in June following election reform that will see the enlargement of its parliament by 50 seats.

“This is going to be one of the most important elections in our history,” Bayan-Altai Luvsandorj, the head of the Mongolia branch of the British charity Save the Children, told HuffPost’s Alexander C. Kaufman last year.

Mongolia’s geographical position makes it particularly interesting. The country borders two major U.S. adversaries ― China, a major copper and coal trade partner, and Russia, which Mongolia relies on for energy.

Crucially, many say Mongolia holds untapped potential as it has vast mineral resources widely needed to power new energy technologies, including electric cars.

The Economist Intelligence Unit predicts Mongolia’s economy will remain strong in the next year as a result of soaring exports and the building of transportation infrastructure that facilitates mining exports.

“Mongolia is positioning itself as an emerging provider of critical minerals in an attempt to court investments from Western countries, although this will not meaningfully reduce its dependence on coal exports to China in the near term,” an EIU analysis reads.

The U.S. and Mongolia established a strategic partnership in 2019 and have continued to work together.

“I emphasize that the United States is not only our strategic third neighbor, but it is also our guiding pole star for Mongolia’s democratic journey,” Mongolian Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erden said during a visit at the Pentagon in August.

While Mongolia is an electoral democracy, the research nonprofit Freedom House points out that “the two dominant parties continue to rely on patronage networks rather than a competition of policy visions, and widespread corruption hampers further development.”

The current governing party is expected to win this year’s election, as the opposition remains fractured.

Venezuela — latter half of 2024

America has a long history of entanglement with Venezuela’s affairs, having gone so far as to plan a coup to oust President Nicolás Maduro from power, according to former Trump-era national security adviser John Bolton.

But talks between the government and the opposition for a fair election to be held later in 2024 have brought “renewed, but cautious, hope for an eventual peaceful and democratic resolution to the systemic injustices in the country,” wrote the Atlantic Council’s Jason Marczak.

Venezuela ― which has the world’s largest oil reserve — descended into authoritarianism during Hugo Chávez’s regime in the 1990s, circumstances that continued under Maduro. The U.S. started imposing sanctions in 2005, which contributed to choking the economy and causing a political and humanitarian crisis that has resulted in more than 7.7 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants worldwide.

Many of these people seek refuge in the U.S., causing challenges for the Biden administration in dealing with the unprecedented numbers.

The U.S. has agreed to ease the sanctions. It remains to be seen if the popular opposition leader Maria Corina Machado will be on the ballot due to wrangling over a ban on her candidacy for office. Venezuela’s path could have major implications for the U.S. in terms of immigration, energy, relations with Latin America and more.

U.K. — probably November

Britain’s exit from the European Union, Scotland’s independence referendum, Boris Johnson’s partying during COVID lockdowns and endless cycles of new prime ministers have enthralled Americans during the 14 years the Conservative Party has governed.

But the wilder the party, the bigger the hangover, and voters seem set to boot the Tories out of office in elections that must be held at some point this year. Labour, the largest opposition party, led by former human rights lawyer Keir Starmer, is preparing to take office and tackle staggering problems such as a National Health Service creaking at the seams and deep unhappiness with the post-Brexit immigration regime.

Keir Starmer, Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader, delivers a speech at the National Composites Centre at the Bristol and Bath Science Park in Bristol on Jan. 4.
Keir Starmer, Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader, delivers a speech at the National Composites Centre at the Bristol and Bath Science Park in Bristol on Jan. 4.
Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

While a Labour government is unlikely to drastically change everyday U.S.-U.K. relations, the outcome of the U.S. election could pose challenges for a British government trying to navigate the “special relationship,” according to HuffPost U.K. Politics Editor Kevin Schofield.

A Trump victory could see Starmer pressured to speak out against anything Trump does that is deemed outrageous. And if current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak somehow manages to hang on, the right wing of his party would demand sycophancy.

But a Biden victory could see a Labour government seeking closer ties with Democrats, as they have a shared approach to economics. Rachel Reeves, who as shadow chancellor would be in charge of the economy if Labour gets in office, has already set out a vision inspired by “Bidenomics” with clean energy as a focus.

Starmer has been described by critics and his own party alike as “boring,” which could portend that Americans go back to paying more attention to the royals than the antics of the government.

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