by Nishith Agarwal

South Asia: Election Year 2024

The year 2024 will go down as one of the rare years where few of the largest democracies and other regionally/strategically important countries are poised for elections, deciding the fate of Asian geopolitical inclinations for the ensuing decade. These elections will also set the trend and govern economics and geopolitical trajectories and alignments with global military and economic powers and hence assume great significance. Whether the elected representatives will see-off their complete tenures, is another story but immediate policies will have a direct impact on several important aspects. The elections will remain entangled with issues of religious nationalism, experimentations with decentralization and economic after-effects of COVID pandemic.

These elections are being held under the shadow of various geopolitical and security crises across the world, mainly in eastern Europe: Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts besides the Houthis unrelenting attacks on the shipping corridor. Additionally, the slated US Presidential elections will have a direct bearing on the outcome of the Asian elections, since the political parties have shaped their election manifesto on their future ties with US. Politically Asia plays a key role in the multipolar world order, where these regional powers are becoming more and more important.


Here is a preview of some of the key national elections in South Asia (Indian Subcontinent) due in the year 2024:




Background - The elections were conducted under immense international pressure on government to conduct free and fair elections despite the opposition boycotting the election process. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) emerged victorious for an unprecedented fifth term in an election which was far from all-inclusive. The elections are also important to determine whether the country will be able to return back to a multi-party system ever. An autocracy in the country is least desirable. The threat of an economic crisis looms large on the government and political instability will ensue in case prompt economic recovery actions are not initiated. The debt situation and inflation are not too promising form an economic perspective. Bangladesh is strategically important and political stability assumes great significance for the region.


Geopolitical & Economic Implications - The extremely low turnout, explicit apathy toward voting, and the failure of the state machineries to demonstrate that it was a participatory election rather than a stage-managed show have sent a clear message that the election has not been well-received by the citizens. There has been a divided response by the international community, with few nations expressing their concerns about the legitimacy of the result while few have accepted the decision and moved on to establish ties. India, China, and Russia have provided unqualified support to the incumbent government. China has even promised to help BNP regime against “external interference”, which will further help cement China’s foothold in the country. China has already made significant investments in Bangladeshi infrastructure projects, sold the country two refurbished submarines, and is the principal supplier of weapons. China has promised to “further promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, and pursue greater progress for China-Bangladesh Strategic Partnership of Cooperation.” This indicates that China’s presence in and influence on Bangladesh will grow further. Such expansion will not be appreciated by China’s arch-rival India, although both are courting Sheikh Hasina. Western nations could see these developments as a potential threat to their interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Keeping the Chinese involvement under consideration, it seems that the United States is softening its tough stance on democracy and human rights in Bangladesh and will remain engaged with the Hasina government. Opposition BNP has been extremely critical of India’s involvement in Bangladesh and have encouraged anti-India sentiments across the masses.

Till now the opposition party BNP has been demonstrating against the results non-violently, however the possibility of these demonstrations taking a violent turn cannot be ruled out, especially since this would be their last effort to establish a multi-party system. Additional support of few great powers like USA, who have expressed their disappointment towards the conduct of the elections, may bolster BNP’s efforts to regroup and intensify their demonstrations. Notably the 75% majority would allow the AL party to pass various regulations and bring about changes in the constitution aligned to their interests. This majority would further encourage the government to deal with political protestors using excessive force, similar to pre-elections, and continue with repression of political opponents. Bangladesh will likely endeavour to keep a judicious balance of relations with other countries based on its own national interests in strengthening its economic, trade, and people-to-people relations with all its immediate neighbours and in its close neighbourhood to the west and east. Given the important strategic dimensions arising from the country’s location at the heart of the Bay of Bengal, which connects the Indian and Pacific Oceans, it is indeed in Bangladesh’s interest to advocate and work for positive relations with all and an open, resilient, and interconnected Indo-Pacific.

The country has been facing a serious economic crisis since the summer of 2022 and has secured loans from the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral institutions. But the foreign exchange reserve is dwindling, local currency is depreciating, inflation has reached double digits, the current account is facing a deficit, and the trade deficit is increasing. The price of essential commodities is rising even as the dollar crisis worsens. All these indicators point to a restive population. This combination of political discontent and economic hardship suggests that the situation could become more volatile in the coming months. The much-touted “stability” under the AL may prove to be fragile in the coming months. Fragile stability is bad news for business and foreign investors.




Background - The general elections in world’s most populous nation is slated in April-May 2024. Bhartiya Janata Party under PM Narendra Modi, will be seeking a third consecutive term. Approx 950 million voters are expected to cast votes. The opposition parties have been contemplating an alliance under the name INDIA - Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. However internal squables, lack of coordination and inability to reach a consensus on seat sharing has weakened the alliance. Moreover, they are unable to project a prime ministerial candidate, hence losing trust of the public. Recent state elections in 5 states had BJP winning in 3 states and opposition parties in 2 states. Welfare programs launched by current government has been taken well by the public and opposition seems to be out of answers to these challenges. The current government has been actively involved globally, be it G20 summit, or the first moon landing, and chances seem to be bright for their return to power. The importance of India as a regional power and ability to engage global powers-US, Russia, China simultaneously remains a major advantage.


Geopolitical & Economic Implications - If elected to power for the 3rd term, BJP will aim to finish the unfinished business. The most prominent agenda points for the 3rd term of BJP will be along cultural lines. The thrust for sustained economic growth will be visible, make-in-India and promotion of start- ups towards self-reliance will be boosted. The government will be looking for creating job opportunities and promotion to manufacturing units in private sector. BJP has promised that India will become the third largest economy in the next 5 years, upto 2029. Infrastructure will continue to be developed at a rapid pace. Nationalist sentiments and openness to friendly relations with regional and global powers will be promoted. Multi-alignment foreign policy will be further strengthened and opportunities to capture manufacturing and service sector will be generated in various states.

Investors expect a boost in foreign direct investment (FDI) due to growth and stability opportunities. Moreover, with current geopolitical situation, firms desirous of moving out of China and looking for alternatives for their manufacturing hub, are being lured to India. The 3 rd term is likely to see the enactment of new labour law and other infrastructure improvements to attract FDI. Investors are also hopeful of a single GST rate instead of current five GST rates. With gradual privatization of public sector agencies like Air India, investors are hopeful of more privatization in the fields of banks and other services. As per records of last three general elections in India, post elections the Indian stock market has seen a consistent positive return, 2004 (16.1%), 2009 (38.7%) and 2014 (14.7%), over the one-year period after election result dates. Hence, this investment before election can be strategically advantageous.

Another important consideration to be borne in mind is that the national census is scheduled in 2026. This will redefine the constituencies and representation of various regions in Lok Sabha based om the population of various states. The southern states have a very low fertility rate as compared to few of the northern states, although they have lesser representation in the Lok Sabha vis-à-vis southern states, i.e. Kerala (population 28 million) has a higher representation than Bihar (population 95 million). This redistribution of seats in Lok Sabha will have a significant change and alter the power dynamics of the states, resulting in major changes in policy directions, as well. This is likely to have a huge impact in governance and policy formulations for future.




Background - The general elections for presidential position have been held on 08 Feb 2024 amidst speculations of a postponement, where 240 million people were expected to cast votes. These elections were overdue after a long period of political instability since April 2022. The ousted PM, Imran Khan’s political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has been in confrontation with Pakistani military and has been barred from contesting these elections. Imran Khan has been jailed for 10-14 years and all his party candidates were forced to contest elections as independent members under independent symbols. The elections were set to be held in last November but were postponed under military directions, being alleged as a ploy to set the stage for adequate control of election process. Though no single party emerged victorious but Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party under Nawaz Sharief emerged largest party post elections. They are likely to form a coalition government with Pakistan People Party, with Shehbaz Sharief being nominated as the PM candidate and Mr Asif Ali Zardari as the Presidential candidate. In the history of Pakistani democracy no elected Prime Minister has ever completed full term of five years. The country faces a challenge of balance-of-payment crisis, excessive inflation, political instability, unemployment, poverty, and a surge in terrorist violence. The country remains vulnerable to geopolitical stress and exogenous threat, besides internal instability. The government will have to take immediate measures to stabilise long term economy, restructure institutions, develop human capital and employment opportunities, and engage young population productively.


Geopolitical & Economic Implications - The election results were a surprise, despite military backing and various methods being applied to prevent PTI to contest on an even ground the PTI candidates, fielding as independents, were successful in securing a large amount of seat, though not a clear majority. Elections were marred with major discrepancies in polling station, unexplained delays in vote counting and results being tabulated and the fact that some candidates “lost” major vote leads reported on election night by the next morning. Election results signify that the military’s tried-and- tested playbook to influence the country’s politics has failed. This was a vote both against the status quo - against the Pakistani military’s political meddling and the dominance of its old guard, the dynastic parties - and one for Khan. His base - the country’s youth and middle class - has grown to deeply resent the military’s heavy-handed role in the country’s politics. Imran Khan and army chief Asim Munir’s “dislike for one another is now pretty well established”. Several candidates won in multiple constituencies – a quirk allowed under Pakistan law - and hence they will have to choose one and have new elections in the other constituencies. And party defections are also common, with at least one Khan loyal winning independent already announcing he was joining the PMLN. Far from returning Pakistan to some modicum of stability, the elections’ conduct has accentuated political tensions in the country.

The incoming coalition government is likely to be unstable, with the PM dedicating much of his time and energy in balancing the coalition rather than the national affairs. The PM may remain hostage to the alliance partners and may not be able to take strong decisions. The incoming coalition government will function as a junior partner to the military - Shehbaz’s government handed over unprecedented power to the army in 2023, and it is likely to continue to do so in this term as well. The government has to work closely with the military for its own political survival. Followers of Imran Khan followers, who had successfully attacked several military installations and the house of Lahore Corp Commander earlier, are likely to resort to such protests more often. The believe that Imran Khan was an anti-corruption crusader and his narrative appeals to the Pakistani youth who are disgruntled and dissatisfied with Army involvement in national politics.

Another important aspect that requires attention is the involvement of judiciary. While in Nawaz Sharif’s case, Pakistani court quashed corruption charges against him and freed him, in the cases against Imran Khan, judgements were rushed to convict him just before the elections. The ban on Nawaz Sharif to contest election was lifted as the court said a ban for life to contest is a violation of fundamental rights of a citizen. Within two months, all cases against him were cleared so that he could file nomination for the elections. The economic and security situation in Pakistan has been deteriorating due to the persistent political instability and confrontational politics. The country’s economy has been growing at a rate of 2–3 per cent, much below desired mark to address economic challenges and grow steadily. Foreign investment has dwindled and foreign exchange reserve touched a little more than US$ 4 billion sending alarm bells. Clashes for food have been a common phenomenon. The imports are increasing and exports are decreasing. Pakistan economy has contracted for the first time. The debt burden has also increased and debt servicing would paralyse the economy. Managing the economy is going to be a tough challenge amidst the increasing pressure from the IMF to curb government expenditures, expand tax net and remove subsidies. Given the performance of Shehbaz Sharif during the stint of 16 months as prime minister from April 2022 to August 2023, he may not have much to offer to address the economic crisis as the IMF’s tough conditionalities would be difficult to ignore. Neither of the coalition parties has a sound record of economic prudence or growth. The army is now also directly involved in the economy, via the army chief’s membership on a special investment facilitation council. In the last couple of years, not only have the terror attacks increased manifold, but Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan have deteriorated. Terror attacks have increased by 70 per cent in 2023.

The fragmented mandate has created political uncertainty. Many predict that the new government may not complete the term. It also makes it far harder for any government to push through the kind of bold economic packages needed for the country to move forward and escape the deep structural problems that are ailing the economy, such as a limited tax base and reliance on handouts from other countries. The weak government may not be able to come up with a united policy to deal with the threat of terrorism. Internal priorities of the new government will impact its foreign policy decision-making, whether with the United States, China, Afghanistan and India.