Global elections in 2024: What do expats expect?

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Published on 2024-02-26 at 14:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Taiwan, Finland, Comoros, Indonesia, and seven other countries have already held their elections since the beginning of 2024. Over 50 other states are yet to go, with elections scheduled almost every month throughout the year. Portugal in March, South Korea in April, South Africa in May, the European Union in June, and undoubtedly, the most awaited election globally: the American presidential election. How do expats feel about all this?

When the world heads to the polls

Almost the entire world is in an election mode this year, with 76 countries hosting elections. A staggering 4.1 billion voters are called to the polls, representing 51% of the global population. Well, 51% minus Senegalese voters, for now. Senegal's presidential election was scheduled for February 25. However, President Macky Sall decided to postpone it until December 15, citing a "dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council." Sall, cited as an example for his refusal to run for a third term, has inadvertently thrown his country into chaos. Since the presidential address, at least three people have died in demonstrations that have shaken the nation. This is precisely the scenario that expatriates fear: getting caught amid political conflicts.

On February 15, the Constitutional Council publicly denounced its president, and the news came as a bombshell. Despite his term officially ending on April 2, it became clear he couldn't stay in office until December. However, holding the elections on February 25 was not feasible, according to the Constitutional Council. They urged authorities to schedule a date before April 2. Expatriates are closely monitoring these unfolding events.

2024: A global election tour and its impact on expatriates

Is the "Senegal affair" likely to be reproduced in other countries? The United States, Portugal, South Korea, and several countries across the European Union (EU) are witnessing similar power struggles, raising questions for potential expatriates. Is this the right moment to relocate? The ongoing Biden/Trump conflict is already causing anxiety for some. Others are troubled by the AI-fueled spread of misinformation, distorting political discourse into mere "simulations of democracy".

Some are thrilled to be "engaging in a national event." Opinions are evenly split among EU expatriates. Will there be a shift towards the right? Although the world keeps spinning, the question arises: in which direction?

"Elections? What elections?"

"I'll tell you what really gets under my skin: the strikes in France. I get that we shouldn't buy into stereotypes, but honestly, the trains, the teachers, the doctors, the Eiffel Tower, etc., and don't even get me started on the farmers..." sighs an expat who preferred to remain anonymous. "Just call me 'the Australian executive.'" Indeed, in his forties, in a relationship with no children, this man works as an executive in the banking sector. He doesn't boast about it: "It's just my job title," he says. Having lived in France for over five years, he's not particularly interested in the upcoming European elections. "Elections? What elections? Oh, right, the European ones, I suppose." The executive is more preoccupied with the disruption to his lifestyle, pointing out that "Île-de-France has turned into a construction site, and it started way before the Olympics."

The Australian executive wishes Paris would prioritize improving accessibility for people with disabilities, especially in public transportation. "Have you ever tried navigating public transport in Paris? No elevators, narrow corridors, impractical infrastructure. Will they address all that during the European elections? No! It's all about immigration, immigration again. I am trying to figure out what's wrong with them when they invite us to work. We come, and they're still not satisfied. Well, I say 'we', but I know I'm privileged. I'm not who they think of when they say 'immigrant', and that annoys me, but I'm resigned to it. Do you see what I'm getting at? That's politics for you. All contradictions and no solutions. So, no, and no, the European elections won't make any difference in my day-to-day life."

"I'll vote because it's my duty."

Marlène, a Belgian expat residing in Spain, isn't enthusiastic about the upcoming European elections. However, she has marked her calendar for June 6 to 9. "I'll vote because it's my duty. We must strive to protect our democracies." Marlène relocated to Madrid last year to work in IT and is contemplating a move. "Madrid faces all the typical challenges of a capital city, and perhaps I contribute to them. Sometimes, I feel like I don't belong in my neighborhood. I'm not one of those wealthy expats driving up housing prices, but I understand that's how the locals may perceive me." Having previously worked in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand, this seasoned traveler believes she's found her "home" in Spain, although she's still searching for it in another city, preferably a smaller one.

When asked if the European elections are impacting her daily life, she shrugs. "What's really changing is the climate, and that's not a good thing. I've cut back on traveling everywhere. Sometimes, you just have to settle down. Water shortages are already becoming a problem. But the MEPs aren't addressing that. Or maybe I just do not hear about it. I don't really follow their debates anyway. No, my day-to-day life remains unchanged. We have other things to deal with besides getting worked up about politics. My husband recently lost his job and is struggling. I've got more important things to worry about than elections. Luckily, our children are there to keep us smiling. Politicians can be frustrating. But I'll definitely be voting, that's for sure."

"It's going to be a national event."

Laura, a French expat student in South Korea, immerses herself in the Korean press. After arriving in Seoul last year, Laura has already become proficient in Korean. It was during her first trip to Japan that she discovered a different approach to politics. "Every morning, I woke up to the sound of megaphones blaring political speeches. At that time, my Japanese skills were too limited to understand. On the streets, I saw vans with candidates and their supporters broadcasting messages. They would stop in front of subway stations to distribute leaflets. I wonder if it will be the same in South Korea."

South Korea's legislative elections are scheduled for April 10. Conservatives and Democrats are locked in yet another intense legal battle, leaving voters disheartened. Many Koreans express disappointment with the closely elected president Yoon Suk-Yeol, an openly anti-feminist conservative, as well as with the leader of the Democrats, Lee Jae-myung. Consequently, they claim to be losing interest in politics. "But it remains a significant national event," says Laura, acknowledging the sentiment among Korean voters.

"I don't discuss politics with my friends. I find it interesting to see what's happening in other countries. Plus, I'm going to vote in the European elections from Seoul. It's my first time voting from abroad. People need to vote. Otherwise, things will only get worse. In 2022, Yoon Suk-Yeol heavily relied on deepfakes [fake videos, fake audio created with AI] to appeal to young people. Can you believe it? But this year, it's strictly prohibited." Indeed, the South Korean electoral commission has banned the use of AI-generated content to either support or attack a candidate. However, such content remains permissible if it neutrally presents news related to a political party.

"We should hope for elections with minimal excesses."

Having settled in Boston over 15 years ago, Jo is feeling uneasy. His friend Lana does her best to reassure him. Both of them work in the video game industry. Jo hails from Germany, while Lana is from Slovakia. They express how they perceive "the tide shifting every day," not just in New York but across the entire United States. "Of course, we don't panic or dwell on it every single day. But there's bound to be that moment when someone shows up at your doorstep with their leaflets or just around the corner."

Most notably, there's this underlying tension. "The atmosphere is highly polarized here, and things have the potential to escalate quickly." Lana, however, remains unconcerned. "Many foreigners just carry on with their lives without too much concern. Well, we don't have to worry. We've got the Green Card. However, I empathize with others who are struggling with visas and feeling very stressed. What will happen if Trump gets re-elected?"

"We have to hope for a relatively calm election," says Jo, though he's not entirely convinced. "Honestly, I'm mostly concerned by the overall atmosphere. The election campaigns here can be incredibly aggressive. Everyday life is already stressful enough as it is. And don't even get me started on the complications caused by AI. It's like we don't find it hard enough to figure out who's telling the truth and who's lying. I'm not sure how this is all going to play out." Lana is more reassuring. "It's going to be alright. We'll manage. Let's hope for the best outcome."

"It's still really crucial, isn't it?"

Mathéo remains hopeful, but his optimism is somewhat tempered. The young accountant embarked on his journey from France to Portugal last year, chasing after his dream. Before making the move, he had come across complaints from locals about expatriates being blamed for the soaring prices. Although he doesn't feel any hostility in his daily life, he does detect a hint of unease at times. "I reside in Porto. One day, while strolling through a quiet neighborhood, I couldn't shake off the feeling that everyone was giving me odd looks. Maybe I'm just being paranoid. In any case, I don't feel at all like an expat or the things they say about expats. I'm not wealthy! I live in a modest place and always keep an eye on my budget. Mathéo does his best to stay informed about local affairs; the legislative elections are scheduled for March 10. The young expat will be voting in the European elections, although he wonders what issues will really be addressed. "I don't feel like there's much enthusiasm here. It's as if the EU is too distant or too vast. But there are numerous benefits we gain from it. For instance, isn't freedom of movement for Europeans precious?"

The year 2024 is poised to become a landmark in history. Some are already labeling it as a "challenge for democracy," expressing thinly veiled concerns about escalating political tensions and the proliferation of disinformation driven by AI. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report, published on February 15, 2024, leaves no room for ambiguity: democracy is on the retreat worldwide. Its index drops from 5.29 out of 10 in 2022 to 5.23 out of 10 in 2023. While the decline may appear marginal, it is a cause for concern. The United States is categorized as a "failing democracy," while Canada is also experiencing a decline. Conflict grips regions across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The big question remains: which world will the electorate choose?