Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, a contributor to CNN, twice winner of the Deadline Club Award, is a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, author of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen” and blogs at SubStack’s Andelman Unleashed. He formerly was a foreign correspondent and bureau chief for The New York Times in Europe and Asia and for CBS News in Paris. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.

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Voters have administered some profound shocks to the world’s stability this past year — but nothing like what we can expect in 2024.

David Andelman

Next year, countries with more than half the world’s population will hold elections, as The Economist noted. More than 4 billion people live in the countries that will be voting.

As I’ve seen over the past two years chronicling the world’s elections, patterns, at times chilling, have emerged. Across every continent it has become all too easy for electorates simply to reject long-standing liberal philosophies for shiny brass promises held out by extremes – often from the populist far right.

And the prospects for dramatic change are only intensifying.

The momentous election year kicks off with Bangladesh in January. Already there have been anti-government demonstrations sparked by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, whose top leaders are jailed or exiled. The BNP has threatened to boycott the polls if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina does not resign and hand power to a caretaker government ahead of the general election. Hasina is likely to continue her iron-fisted rule of 15 years.

In February, the world’s two most populous Muslim nations — Pakistan and Indonesia – have elections within a week of each other. Pakistan will hold its first general election since popular but divisive former Prime Minister Imran Khan was removed on corruption charges. (He denies all wrongdoing). Though not a candidate, Khan is still the driving force behind his political party.

Indonesia will hold the world’s largest single-day election shortly after — featuring more than 200 million voters in the country and 1.75 million Indonesian diaspora — though voters are unlikely to loosen the grips on power of wealthy business and military elites.

Elsewhere, South Africa will hold perhaps the most epiphanal election in Africa, certainly in its troubled post-Nelson Mandela period. When South Africans went to the polls in municipal elections two years ago, Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) party won fewer than 50% of the vote for the first time, with voters dismayed by the disarray and corruption that have marked too much of its 30-year hold on power. If that downward trend continues at the 2024 general election, it will be a defining moment in South Africa’s political history.

Looking to Europe, there will be nine parliamentary elections, where one of the biggest challenges for incoming governments will be finding coalition partners to form majorities.

Keep an eye on Portugal’s snap election in March. It follows a corruption investigation that forced out the country’s socialist prime minister after eight years in office — and could herald a swing to the far-right Chega (Enough) party. Equally, the right seems poised for big gains in Austria’s election, due by fall.

Also due by the end of January 2025 is the United Kingdom’s general election, meaning we can expect to see British voters likely heading to the polls at the tail end of 2024 — and could even see a return of the Labour Party to power after 14 fraught years of Conservative rule.

Turning to Latin America, Mexico is set to get its first woman president, as two are on the ballot for the main parties in June’s elections, where drugs, crime and migration to the US are at the top of the political agenda. Elsewhere, Venezuela’s wildly unpredictable, nationalist leader Nicolas Maduro will seek a new mandate with the stakes including a border battle with neighboring Guyana over oil rights.

But there are five especially dramatic contests worth spotlighting:

Taiwan on January 13: A new president at the center of US-China tensions

TAIPEI, TAIWAN - DECEMBER 03: DPP's presidential candidate, Lai Ching-te, gives a speech during the Opening of Lai Ching-te's National and Taipei City Campaign Headquarters on December 03, 2023 in Taipei, Taiwan. Presidential election hopeful, Lai Ching-te, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and his vice presidential candidate, Hsiao Bi-khim, launch their national and Taipei City campaign headquarters. Taiwan's presidential frontrunner, William Lai, who China views as a separatist, leads opinion polls to be Taiwan's next president, which could affect global geopolitics for years to come. Taiwan will head to the polls in general elections on Jan. 13. (Photo by Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)

The stakes are especially high in this time of heightened tension between Beijing and Taipei as the United States continues to pledge a guarantee of Taiwan’s democracy.

With three presidential candidates, narrow front-runner and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) pick Lai Ching-te is anathema to China with his pledge to continue the determined defense of the island’s sovereignty, set by incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen. A close second, Hou Yu-Ih of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), wants to begin talking with Beijing. A distant third, Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and former mayor of Taipei, offers a middle ground closer to conciliation.

If voters go with the status quo, expect Beijing to ratchet up the pressure. “A choice between war and peace,” was the official Chinese response, after unity talks between the opposition parties broke down in November.

Russia on March 17: Putin is leaving little to chance

Women walk near an electronic screen on the facade of a building showing an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a quote from his annual end-of-year press conference and the Direct Line question and answer session, in Moscow, Russia December 14, 2023. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

There’s little doubt about Vladimir Putin’s planned president-for-life status in his fig-leaf re-election campaign. He’ll be 78 by the end of his term, passing Soviet leader Josef Stalin as longest-serving Russian ruler since Catherine the Great.

Putin is leaving little to chance. So far, he appears to have just one officially-sanctioned opponent — Alexei Nechaev, a cosmetics businessman, who happens to be a member of Putin’s own political coalition the All Russia Peoples Front.

There could well be chaos as there was across Russia in the 2018 presidential contest, although hundreds of thousands of potentially anti-Putin voices have fledabroad during the invasion of Ukraine.

With the very real possibility that this could be the Russian president’s final election — given his age — an emboldened Putin could set his sights after the election on an even broader and more destabilizing effort at reassembling a Soviet empire. And the risk of a direct confrontation with NATO should hardly be excluded.

India in April and May: The world’s most populous nation at a crossroads

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) speaks to media at the opening of the budget session of Parliament in New Delhi on January 31, 2023. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP) (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Turning the world’s most populous nation from a vibrant democracy into a Hindu nationalist state approaching a theocracy are the stakes for India in this election, expected to be held over several weeks in April and May. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi devoted his first term to cementing an unyielding Hindu nationalism. Out in the cold are the nation’s roughly 200 million Muslims and 28 million Christians. There are fears an anticipated Modi victory would allow him to complete what he sees as a central element of his mission. 

Next month, Modi will inaugurate a sprawling Hindu temple, rising on the ashes of an old mosque site – a symbolic affirmation of dominance for Modi and all of India’s Hindus.

How does the United States deal with such an individual — central to the developing world and at the same time an important trading partner, a counterweight to Pakistan and its lean toward Russia and China and a strategic bulwark against unchecked Chinese expansion in the Pacific?

European Parliament from June 6 - 9: A major shift to the right?