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2024 Election Watch: India, South Korea, Slovakia, Croatia, and Solomon Islands

18 Apr 2024
By Colin Chapman FAIIA
Yoon Suk Yeol, the 20th President of Republic of Korea. The Inauguration Ceremony, May 10, 2022. Source:  Koreanet Photostream /

A further deepening of far right forces in Croatia, Slovakia, and India threaten to strain democratic processes. Meanwhile, in the Republic of Korea, President Yoon Suk Yeol faces a determined opposition in the national assembly, with a major swing toward the liberal opposition. 

The first quarter of the year is behind us and we have already seen the re-election by popular vote of one of the most autocratic figures of the early 21st century, Russia’s Vladimir Putin. With his friend Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China, they are the most significant pair in world affairs. Mr Xi, of course, needs no re-election, following the removal of the two-term limit on the presidency in 2018, giving him the job for life.

Now in April, there are elections in the world’s largest democracy, India. The country is so populous, with so many states, that the election period extends from 19 April to 1 June. Though the outlook is unpredictable, it does not stop observers of every kind predicting that the incumbent president Narendra Modi will be re-elected. For the next three months the battle for a majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house, will be fought from the teeming streets of Calcutta and Mumbai to the paddy fields of West Bengal and the rubber plantations of Kerala. The election will take place in seven phases, with the results announced on 4 June.

The Economist  reports that the government is not resting easy, despite Modi’s popularity being at an all-time high at home and among the diaspora abroad. It has “stepped up a campaign to quash dissent,” making “many concerned that, were Mr Modi to win a third term, he may become even less tolerant of the opposition,”The Economist reports. On 21 March, the Indian Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi and leader of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as part of a corruption probe, making him the third opposition leader to be arrested this year and the first sitting minister to be arrested in India’s history.

Whatever is to happen in India is unlikely to match the shock result in another important Asian country, South Korea, where a record turnout at the polls led to a surprising win from the liberal opposition, the Democratic Party (DP), which won 161 seats out of 254 directly contested seats in the national assembly. The ruling conservative People Power party (PPP) won 90 seats. The result greatly weakens the position of the country’s conservative president, Yoon Suk Yeol, who is nearing the end of the first two years of his five-year single term and is likely, according to some analysts, to become a lame duck leader. Both the prime minister Han Duk-soo, and the PPP’s leader Han Dong-hoon, resigned as the scale of the defeat became apparent. The bitterly fought race was seen by some as a referendum on the president, whose popularity has fallen amid a cost-of-living crisis and a spate of political scandals.

Corruption scandals and the rising cost of living also feature strongly in the election campaign in the Balkan nation of Croatia, formerly a part of Yugoslavia. The New York Times reports that a snap general election scheduled for 17 April has left the governing party exposed to an unexpectedly strong challenge from populist forces.  Opinion polls put the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), a pro-European, right-wing party, ahead of its main rival, the Social Democratic party and a plethora of smaller groups. The far-right Homeland Movement could be a kingmaker if, as is likely, neither of the two main parties win a majority in parliament. Andrej Plenkovic, the current prime minister and HDZ leader, is a bitter rival of Croatia’s president, Zoran Milanovic. It was Milanovic who called the early election, declaring himself the Social Democratic party candidate for prime minister, the country’s most powerful post.

In neighbouring Slovakia, the presidential election gained significance after prime minister Robert Fico’s three-party coalition took office last October pledging to stop migration and discontinue help to Ukraine. In a vitriolic campaign between the two candidates, Peter Pellegrini won 53 percent of the votes on 6 April, consolidating the grip of the ruling coalition and tilting the country further towards Russia. Pellegrini, parliamentary speaker and a partner in Fico’s coalition, had accused Ivan Korcok, a former foreign minister, of wanting to drag Slovakia into the Russia-Ukraine war. The outgoing president Zuzana Caputova recently warned that Fico’s government was “testing the limits” of democracy by overhauling the judiciary and clamping down on independent media and civil society organisations.

Far from Europe, and close to Australia’s watch lie the Solomon Islands, whose residents went to the polls on17 April in what are arguably the Islands’ most important elections since independence, and where 50 seats are being strongly contested by 334 candidates. A struggling economy and yawning gaps in health care, education, and other social services have combined with allegations of government corruption to create a climate of social unrest. In 2019 prime minister Manasseh Sogavare severed 36 years of relations with Taiwan in favour of China and there are growing rifts over power and resource-sharing between the capital Honiara and the provinces. Some analysts question whether the country’s democratic processes and institutions can survive the outcomes of the election, given the weakened state of democracy and the social and economic challenges of recent years.

April also sees presidential and parliamentary elections in Kuwait, Ecuador, Maldives, North Macedonia and Togo.

Colin Chapman FAIIA is a writer, broadcaster, public speaker, who specialises in geopolitics, international economics, and global media issues. He is a former president of AIIA NSW and was appointed a fellow of the AIIA in 2017. Colin is editor at large with Australian Outlook.

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