World will see major shifts in the year of elections The Statesman 26 Dec 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


World will see major shifts in the year of elections The Statesman 26 Dec 2023

          Multiple nations have elections in 2024. In some cases, there could be a change in government implying a shift in policies, whereas in others it would strengthen current regimes. The outcome of elections could have a bearing on their immediate region or ongoing conflicts.

In South Asia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and then India will conduct national elections in the first half of the year. US interference in Bangladesh’s internal matters, including conduct of elections, has witnessed an increase as the nation heads for polls. It has repeatedly called out the current leadership for undermining democratic processes. A change of guard in Dacca could add to India’s security concerns, whereas continuation of the Sheikh Hasina regime would result in the US further sidelining the country on democratic principles.

For India and Pakistan there can be no change in status quo till elections are held in both countries. In Pakistan, it is likely that Nawaz Sharif may be sworn in for the fourth time. His return from self-exile, imprisonment of Imran Khan and the silence of Bilawal Bhutto, signify this possibility. In Delhi, the reading on the wall is the return of Modi.

The arrival of Nawaz and Modi in Islamabad and Delhi could signal a thaw in relations, provided Asim Munir, the Pak army chief, is on board. The US is likely to pressurize Pak to move forward in its ties with India, as a precondition for allocation of aid. This could result in a reduction in Pak’s interference in Kashmir, though resolution is still some distance away. Grant of statehood to J and K could be the first step to reconciliation.

If the Modi government returns to power in India, ongoing policies would continue. This could lead to an increase in foreign investment spurring growth. The domestic defence industry would also witness a quantum leap in investments. India’s global standing, currently at an all time high, would gain ground. India could become a major global player.  

Europe is also likely to witness changes in the coming year. In Mar 2024, Russia goes to the polls, where President Putin is expected to retain power. Opposition in Russia is almost non-existent. Simultaneously, Ukraine is scheduled to have elections by 31st March, though thus far Zelensky has claimed that they would be postponed on account of the ongoing conflict. He has also demanded additional grants to enable him to conduct elections. Pressure is bound to increase in the coming months on Zelensky to conduct elections, which in all probability would be closely monitored by the European Union, ensuring they remain free and fair. 

If held, and a new leadership takes power in Ukraine, peace talks with Moscow could commence. If Zelensky retains power, there could be some hesitation but dialogue appear to be the only way forward. Putin has already hinted on discussions with the US, Europe and Ukraine, mentioning as a precondition, ‘we will do it based on our national interests. We will not give up what is ours.’ Russia currently controls almost 20% of Ukrainian territory. With the Israel-Hamas war pushing Ukraine onto the sidelines, there appears to be little option but dialogue.

Divisions amongst European nations on backing Ukraine are on the rise. The opening of European Union membership talks with Kiev resulted in Hungary blocking Euro 50 billion aid to it. The new government in Poland has already stopped supplying military equipment to Ukraine. Geert Wilders, whose party won the recently concluded Netherlands election stated, ‘We believe we shouldn’t give military support to Ukraine while we are unable to defend our own country.’ Displaying neutrality, he also termed Putin as a ‘terrible dictator.’

While UK is scheduled to hold elections latest by Jan 2025, Rishi Sunak has vowed to conduct them in the latter part of 2024, which could witness the arrival of the Labour party, as Rishi’s Conservative party is losing ground. Europe too will elect a new parliament in Jun next year. A new European Commission is expected to be in place by the end of the year. The new EU parliament and commission will be in place as US elections conclude. Though a US court has barred Trump, currently the favourite, from contesting state primaries, its ruling is likely to be overturned by the US Supreme Court.

The arrival of Trump in the White House could dent US-Europe relations as also Ukraine would lose US backing, which is already waning. Trump has often criticized Biden’s military and financial support for Ukraine. Zelensky mentioned, ‘I think he (Trump) will surely have a different policy.’

Trump had insisted during his last tenure as president that Europe should increase its defence spending. He had desired that Europe must possess the capability to defend itself, rather than banking on the US. Europe would be unable to support Ukraine without US backing, playing into Russian hands for talks.

Trump has always been pro-Israel. He had announced the shifting of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, must against global objections including the Palestinians. His individual relations with Netanyahu, the Israeli PM were always strong, though Netanyahu may not remain the PM till then.  

US confrontation with China would remain as hitherto fore with either Trump or Biden in the White House. For the US, China will be a challenge. Keeping it under check and preventing an expansion of conflict in the region is a US priority considering they have security agreements with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

Taiwan presidential elections are due in early Jan 2024. China is already running a campaign to keep the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which seeks an independent Taiwan, from regaining power. It is backing the opposition Kuomintang, which welcomes closer ties with Beijing.

China has enhanced its forays into Taiwanese airspace threatening aggression in case the DPP returns to power. How will the results fan out are to be seen. In case the DPP returns, the region will witness enhanced tensions.

2024 will be a year to watch. With elections in major countries, changes in approach can be expected. Policies of incoming incumbents will either reduce or enhance tensions in their immediate neighbourhood as also influence ongoing conflicts.