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Democracy revved up

In the next 14 months, 62 countries will go to polls resulting in far-reaching ramifications for global governance

Democracy revved up

We are in the middle of a democratic festive season because in the six weeks that 2018 has left 18 countries will elect their governments. In India, five states—Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram—will vote. These elections will act as semi-final rounds for the general elections scheduled for April-May 2019.

In 2019, more than 33 countries would elect their governments and Parliaments. Close to 2 billion citizens will exercise their voting rights.

In 2018, about 66 countries went to polls and around three billion people voted. Since there's a tilt towards protectionism and support for globalisation in many countries is fast declining, economic development, or the right model of it, has become a central issue. Other issues that revolve around it include trade protection and curbing immigration to protect the local economy. Since the countries going to polls are primarily agrarian and manufacturing hubs, the elections will be more about development, centring on environmental factors like extreme weather.

All continents to see elections soon

Countries, which will soon witness elections, are spread across all continents and each continent is facing its own unique moment in history. Together, they will redefine global development in politics. Africa is facing the age-old question of whether democracy would rescue it from decades of desperate development indicators. It has the world's highest untapped potential in all sectors. Both North and South Americas are facing the challenge of post-disaster rehabilitation and also the unwanted changes in the US' policies. These countries will also need to meet the challenge that years of economic slowdown have put in front of them. They will need to deal with the development dilemma of how much of natural resources need to be compromised for economic development.

Asia is at the core of the global economy debate. Oil production from this continent will decide the global energy market. Not to forget the global governance challenge: how deep democracy would percolate in the Arab world.

On the other hand, there is an increasing lack of confidence in electoral democracy. One can celebrate this periodic display of democratic might. But if elected governments are not able to live up to their electors' confidence, there will be insurmountable challenges. This is when unemployment, especially among youngsters, is at its peak and the majority of protests across countries are led by young people. Add to it, the growing sentiment of anti-globalisation. Whether it is the US or the EU (read Brexit), there is this "my country first" policy, which is invariably deciding the national political discourse.

India to play a deciding role

India's 130 million first-time voters are emerging as the largest bloc of voters whose choice would reflect the state of the economy, not only in India but also in the world. First, unemployment is turning out to be a big election issue in India threatening the ruling National Democratic Alliance's re-election. Most of these new voters come from rural backgrounds and are supported by the traditional agricultural economy. But in recent years agriculture has stopped to be a remunerative option of livelihood. So, most of them come with a huge hope to seek change. But since the rate of unemployment is pretty high, the inherent discontent would impact the electoral fortunes of the ruling party.

Though all countries voting for new governments have been affected by climate change, there is a sharp division between those who are responsible and those who are victims. This fight for equity to solve the planet's biggest development challenge remains. Countries might be united in adopting one form of government—electoral democracy—but they are today more divided than ever on the question of a global agenda for development.

There is no sure way to forecast so many elections and their cumulative impacts on the global development agenda. But in a scenario, where there is an intrinsic connection between global and local issues, one thing is sure that elections in 2018-2019 will have far-reaching ramifications for the global governance regimes. One such example is President Donald Trump's "America First" agenda, a significant indicator of the anti-globalisation sentiment. This will have a ripple effect on countries that share deep ties with the powerful global player. The fight against climate change would also be further weakened. Without an agreement with the planet's historic biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, most of the countries will be affected.

Currently, India's five states are voting. But with an inextinguishable rural distress in many states, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party is a key contestant, faces a difficult task of gaining back the confidence of rural voters. These states have witnessed widespread rural distress and protests by farmers. So, will 2018-2019 be the years of rural India, or as they say, Bharat?

(The author is Managing Editor of Down To Earth. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Richard Mahapatra

Richard Mahapatra

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