Half the world is holding elections this year. What does it mean for Australia?

At polling booths across India, a purple ink will soon cast an indelible mark on the left-hand index finger of voters, and potentially the history books, in this year’s general election.
The semi-permanent dye is a special, patented formula that leaves a stain for several weeks — and is used to prevent one person from casting multiple votes.
The ink was first used in the country’s 1962 general election to maintain fairness in the voting process.

Boasting the world’s largest democracy with a population of roughly 1.4 billion, India is expected to hold general elections between April and May this year.

Women show an ink mark on their fingers.

Women display the indelible ink marks on their fingers after casting their votes in a village in the Kausambi district of Uttar Pradesh state, India, 2019. Source: AAP / Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

Alongside Indonesia, Cambodia, Solomon Islands and Palau — countries which are also holding elections — it reads like a roll call of Australia’s closest neighbours.

Some of our most powerful allies or global influences are also poised for the polling booth, including the in November.
, United Kingdom, South Africa, Ukraine and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are also among those set to vote.

A ‘super year’ of elections: What’s in it for Australia?

“Never before in human history have so many people voted as this year,” Matt Qvortrup, a political scientist and visiting law professor at the Australian National University, told SBS News.
“That shows that there is democracy around the world, however, we shouldn’t be too carried away with the mere act of voting. In many of these places, democracy is being challenged.

“Australia is trading with many of the countries — Indonesia, India, the US. The problem you have when countries become less democratic is the system of rule of law also falls by the wayside.”

A map showing upcoming elections around the world.

These are the upcoming or expected elections that could have an effect on Australia. Source: SBS News

India: One to watch

For Qvortrup, India is “really the election [Australia] should keep an eye on”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), widely considered a Hindu nationalist party, are seeking re-election for a third term.
Qvortrup argues that like Russia, large countries such as India and Indonesia “have become or are very close to becoming competitive authoritarian regimes”.

“A further solidification of Modi’s rule will in the long run probably have more implications for Australia than a brief period of chaos under Trump.”

Narendra Modi in a vehicle with two men in black shirts and sunglasses.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures to supporters as part of the election campaign for the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections in Bangalore, India last year. Source: AAP / Jagadeesh Nv/EPA

He speculated a third term “will effectively undermine the institutions of Indian democracy” which will “manifest itself in a more muscular foreign policy” and destabilise the region overall.

“This will have implications for Australian trade, and for the universities that increasingly rely on Indian students,” Qvortrup said.

India does not allow dual citizenship, meaning Australian Indians are not eligible to vote in Indian elections.

Indonesia: Australia’s largest northern neighbour

Almost 205 million voters are registered to vote in Indonesia’s presidential election on 14 February.
The world’s third-largest democracy is looking for a successor to current president Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, who has spent a decade in office and is limited to two terms by the constitution.
Of the three candidates, defence minister Prabowo Subianto — who is running with Jokowi’s son as his candidate for vice president — is the frontrunner.
University of Melbourne senior lecturer in Asian politics Pradeep Taneja said the outcome of this election is important for Australia, with the country being its largest northern neighbour.
“It’s a country with which Australia has over the past few decades tried to develop a good, strong, stable relationship,” he said.

But Qvortrup warns of the “gradual corrosion of democracy” in the country, where “draconian” laws such as outlawing sex before marriage have recently been passed.

A graph showing the populations of countries with upcoming elections of interest for Australia, along with percentage of voter turnout.

Populations and voter turnout in upcoming elections of interest for Australia. Source: SBS News

Indonesian citizens in Australia who are aged over 17 are eligible to vote in the upcoming election, according to Mulyoto Pangestu, chair of an Indonesian election supervising committee in Melbourne.

Up to 10,000 citizens were expected to cast their vote at a booth at the Indonesian consulate in Melbourne on 10 February, with centres operating at consulates in Sydney, Perth, Canberra and Darwin.
Pangestu said voting day in Melbourne “will be quite busy” with potentially “thousands of people” voting.

He said vote counting will take place on 14 February.

Other neighbouring countries are also set to hold elections this year, with voters in Cambodia heading to the polls on 25 February, the Solomon Islands expected in April, and Palau on 12 November.

While Russia, the United Kingdom and European Union are also slated to head to the polls this year, the US election is arguably snatching the lion’s share of attention in Australia and around the world.

The United States: The big hitter

“We found that in 2016, Australians were looking for election results for the US election at twice the rate than they did their own election on Google,” director of research at Sydney’s United States Studies Centre Jared Mondschein said.
All eyes will be on the US presidential election this November, with to a November rematch with
Mondschein argues that Australia fared well during Trump’s administration, and increases in Australia’s defence spending and the AUKUS agreement would be viewed highly by Trump.
But Mark Rolfe, an expert in American-Australian politics from the University of NSW, said a possible Trump victory could inspire right-wing populists in Australia — from sections of political parties to grassroots activism.
Most US citizens aged 18 years and older who reside outside the US are eligible to lodge an absentee vote in primary and general elections. Requirements for registration differ from state to state. More information .
A man wearing a suit and tie clapping while standing on a stage in front of American flags.

Donald Trump at a watch party during the 2024 Iowa Republican presidential caucuses last month. Source: Getty / Jim Watson/AFP

Russia

In Russia’s presidential election, Vladimir Putin is eyeing a fifth term in office that would extend his 24-year rule by another six years. The country of 144 million will head to the polls between 15 and 17 March.
“Putin cannot go anywhere,” Qvortrup said, describing the situation in Russia as one where “democracy has effectively been abolished”.

“It has been abolished in the sense that Putin — through repressive means, but also clever ways — has made it impossible for people to stand against him.”

Qvortrup said another term for Putin would mean the war in Ukraine will go on.
“A Trump presidency — with less commitment to Ukraine — will be a challenge. Australia will need to stand with its European allies,” Qvortrup said.
Russian citizens living in Australia will be able to vote in the upcoming election on 17 March, with two polling stations set up at the Russian embassy in Canberra and the Russian Consulate General in Sydney, according to the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Australia.

Online voting is not available for citizens outside Russia, and early voting is being planned in several other cities in the first half of March.

The European Union and the United Kingdom: A passing interest?

In June, citizens of the European Union will vote for members to represent them in the European Parliament. Elections will take place in all 27 member states over several days.
Recent polls, such as one from the European Council on Foreign Relations, forecast a major shift to the right, with populist right parties gaining votes and seats across the EU — a “sharp right turn” it said could impact European-level and foreign policies on issues such as climate change.
Qvortrup argues that despite an increase in far-right parties, the European elections will be “inconsequential”.

“They will be used, in most countries, as a way of sending a warning sign to the governments in power that people are angry,” he said.

In the UK, where the Conservative Party has been in power for almost 14 years, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to call a national election in the second half of the year.
Recent polls have repeatedly shown the Conservatives trailing the British opposition Labour Party, according to Reuters.
But Qvortrup doesn’t see a UK election outcome largely impacting Australia.
“For the Australian government, there will be talk about the special relationship … but the most consequential interaction between Britain and Australia will be our ritual humiliation in the Ashes,” he said.
All British citizens aged 18 or above who live abroad can register to vote in the constituency they were in before leaving the UK. More information .
Most member states of the EU also allow voting from abroad for those aged over 18 — although in Bulgaria and Italy, this only applies to citizens in another member state. More information .
With elections taking place all around the globe — some fairer than others, some with all-but-certain outcomes — Australia will be casting more than just a casual glance on the major players as well as those closer to home.

With additional reporting by Reuters.