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Douglas Alexander: Elections will focus the voters in year of transition

© ShutterstockDouglas Alexander.
Douglas Alexander.

The looming election in Taiwan will be one of the most important international votes in a year full of them, according to Douglas Alexander.

The Labour politician believes two of the most significant elections – on the East Asian island on Saturday and the US in November – will bookend a year when two billion people will be asked to cast their vote.

The former minister, who has decades of international experience as a politician, strategist and academic, believes those votes will be milestones in a year of political and economic transition when at least 64 countries and the European Union – representing an estimated 49% of the global population – will stage national elections.

Alexander, who hopes to return to Westminster as MP for East Lothian when the UK votes later this year, said Taiwan, the self-ruling but contested island in the China Sea, is an early but potentially crucial election in a huge year for international democracy.

2024 elections

Last month, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told US President Joe Biden that the future of Taiwan is the single biggest risk to relations between the two superpowers, which are divided on the island’s refusal to accept Chinese rule.

Alexander was in Taiwan recently and said its economic and strategic importance means the election will have far-reaching consequences.

The current vice-president, William Lai, is leading the ruling Democratic Progressive Party into the election as narrow favourite but is viewed in Beijing as a “trouble-maker” intent on severing ties with China.

New world order? Democracy in the balance as voters across the globe take to the polls

Alexander said: “Whoever wins, there will be a new president whose views on the future of the island will be closely scrutinised by the Chinese government. There may be some tense months before the president’s inauguration in May.”

Speaking from the US, where he began 2024 lecturing on climate policy at New York University, Alexander said that country’s presidential election on November 5 will be one of the last elections of 2024 but, potentially, the most significant.

The former MP, who has held a series of influential positions including governor to the World Bank and international development secretary, said: “Whatever happens, Donald Trump will soon roar back into our consciousness.

“Increasingly, eyes around the world will turn to the US election and the five battleground states where it is likely to be decided.”

US election

Democrat strategists remain ­frustrated because rising prices mean Biden is not getting credit for the strong performance of the US economy and are anxious that Trump remains in contention despite instigating insurrection at the Capitol.

Polls suggest the former president, who may have the Republican nomination tied up by March, is ahead of Biden in key states despite facing a series of criminal indictments.

Alexander said Democrat ­concern is justified given the expectation that, if victorious, Trump will take revenge on the institutions he blames for his political and legal troubles.

He added: “In that sense, we may learn a lot on November 6 not only about the future of America but the future of the West.

“It is not unusual for an incumbent president to be behind in the polls at this stage but the Democrats need to explain what a Trump presidency might look like while amplifying Biden’s real achievements.”

The former trade minister believes that, while potential leaders around the world will be asked to explain how they might help end conflict in Ukraine – where scheduled elections are likely to be postponed – and the Middle East, economic issues will be at the forefront of voters’ minds.

Alexander suggests voters here have been exhausted by identity politics in the years since referendums on independence and Brexit. He said: “I’ve been knocking on a lot of doors in East Lothian and there is an overwhelming sense that Scots feel scunnered by both our governments.

“There is a general anger about the Conservatives and a general disappointment with the SNP. Everyone is looking for change.”