Disruptions Associated with Upcoming Elections Part 1

Disruptions Associated with Upcoming Elections Part 1
March 26, 2024 sdcpm
Disruptions Associated with Upcoming Elections Part 1 - TorchStone Global

Disruptions Associated with Upcoming Elections Part 1

By TorchStone Senior Analyst, Ben West

More than half of the world’s population is scheduled to vote in elections across nearly 40 countries in 2024. Electoral politics and passionate debates tend to generate demonstrations and, occasionally, violent protest actions and targeted attacks that can threaten social stability. Elections can also shift political alignments that can push countries toward military conflict.

Protests or conflicts in the lead-up to and response to contentious elections have the potential to threaten employees, physical assets, and supply chains around the world. Tracking especially contentious upcoming election cycles taking place in 2024 can help security managers anticipate where and when employees based overseas may need more support than normal. TorchStone has identified eight election flashpoints that corporate security offices should monitor and develop response plans for in case the situation deteriorates quickly.

Part 1 of this report covers Indonesia, Senegal, India, and Taiwan.

Key Dates—Remainder of 2024

March 20, 2024: Indonesia is expected to officially announce the winner of the February elections. There is a strong precedent for disruptive protest activity leading up to and following election results in the country, with central Jakarta typically bearing the brunt of the unrest.

March 24, 2024: Senegal is experiencing an increase in protests following the outgoing president’s efforts to delay national elections that were originally scheduled for February. Additional irregularities, or unexpected outcomes, could trigger additional waves of violent unrest.

April-May 2024: India is scheduled to hold nationwide elections that have historically seen upticks in violence linked to increased protest activity, militant attacks, and politically linked violence between rivals.

May 20, 2024: Taiwan will inaugurate a new president who is staunchly opposed to Chinese efforts to gain control over Taiwan. Beijing will likely signal its opposition through potentially disruptive military, economic, or information campaigns.

May 29, 2024: South Africa faces the prospect of widespread protests and rioting if former president Jacob Zuma does not win. His supporters demonstrated their support for him during a weeks-long protest campaign in 2021 that led to widespread property damage. Additionally, local political violence is set to rise again ahead of the elections.

June 2, 2024: Mexico is already experiencing an increase in assassinations against local political candidates ahead of its scheduled elections in June. The country is set to experience its most violent year since the last round of national elections in 2018.

November 2024: Moldova will vote on a president and whether to start the process of joining the European Union, which Moscow is opposed to. As one of the few European states not protected under Western-backed security treaties, Moldova is a target for Russia’s campaign to halt the eastward expansion of pro-western countries. Russian interference, and potentially violence, are possible, if not likely, surrounding the elections.

November 5, 2024: United States elections will be a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President, Donald Trump. Their 2020 contest resulted in unprecedented levels of U.S. electoral unrest.


Strong Precedent of Violent Electoral Protests as Results Expected March 20

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto claimed victory in Indonesia’s Feb 14 presidential elections after unofficial results gave him the advantage, but official results will not be announced until March 20 at the earliest. Regardless of official results, protests are likely in the capital Jakarta and other major cities. During the last major election in 2019, Subianto’s supporters engaged in violent riots in central Jakarta for several days after he lost the election. Any official result that challenges Subianto’s early declaration of victory will certainly be met with similarly violent protests. Subianto’s main political challenger, Anies Baswedan, has already indicated that he plans to challenge the results of the election in the Constitutional Court. His supporters rallied peacefully outside the Election Commission in Jakarta on Feb 16. However, there is a strong precedent for politicians to fight electoral losses in the streets, so those protests could grow larger and more disruptive—especially if there is credible evidence of election fraud, as the opposition alleges.

Feb 16, 2024: Protesters peacefully rallied around the General Election Commission in central Jakarta calling on election officials to block Subianto from taking over the presidency.

May 22, 2019: Six people died amidst widespread property damage in central Jakarta during riots against the presidential election results. Protests in support of challenger Prabowo Subianto started peacefully but escalated in the evening after police fired tear gas on them. In addition to the deaths, at least 200 people were injured.

Aug 21, 2014: Supporters of Prabowo Subianto stormed Indonesia’s Constitutional Court after their candidate lost the presidential election, forcing police to use tear gas to disperse the crowd. Over 50,000 police and military personnel were on standby to deal with disruptive protest tactics.

Tensions Elevated After Outgoing President Attempted to Delay Elections

Violent protests broke out nationwide in February after the parliament approved President Macky Sall’s appeal to delay elections, originally scheduled for February 25. President Sall will not be competing in the upcoming election due to term limits rules, ending his 12 years in office. The opposition sees the election delay as an effort by President Sall to illegally extend his time in power. The opposition has responded to the election delays with protests that have led to violent clashes with police and disruptions in the capital, Dakar. As of early March, elections are scheduled for March 24 – just a week before President Sall’s final term in office is constitutionally set to end. While protests have continued, they have calmed down in recent weeks. Senegal navigated its previous change of power in 2012 without significant disruptions, so there is precedent for a peaceful transition of power. However, turmoil over the last-minute election date change has put the country on edge and further irregularities in the election process and/or results could trigger additional waves of violence.

Feb 17, 2024: Thousands of protesters rallied peacefully in Dakar and avoided clashes with police in a sign that the situation was calming down.

Feb 13, 2024: Senegal’s Ministry of Communication suspended mobile data networks as part of a ban on continued opposition protest activity.

Feb 9, 2024: Three protesters died during the first week of demonstrations following the election postponement announcement. Police clashed with protesters throughout the week, but protests were especially fierce on Friday, Feb 9.

Feb 4, 2024: Riot police fired tear gas at protesters in Dakar angry over a last-minute order to delay presidential elections. Police arrested dozens of protesters, including opposition political leaders running for office. The government also cut off the TV signal broadcasting live coverage of the protests, triggering angry responses from civil society.

Complex Security Environment Presents Diverse Challenges During Election Cycles

Now the largest country in the world by population, elections in India are an enormous undertaking and tend to see spikes in unrest and violence. The security situation in India is very complex and threats range from external attacks from Pakistan to internal separatist and terrorist groups, nationwide protest movements, and local political rivalries that escalate to violence. The exact dates of India’s elections have not yet been set but are likely to take place between April–May 2024.

During the last elections in 2019, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) counted 327 reported fatalities in India linked to election violence, with Jammu & Kashmir state accounting for over half of those fatalities. Violence in Jammu & Kashmir was especially pronounced during the 2019 elections due to the militant attack on an Indian military convoy in Pulwama just months before polls opened. The attack was linked back to Pakistan, which led to deadly fighting in the contested Kashmir region.

Analysis of violence during the 2019 election cycles showed that the states that experienced the most reported incidents of violence were Jammu & Kashmir (980 incidents); Punjab (502); West Bengal (461); and Tamil Nadu (368). Other areas of concern are India’s northeastern corridor states, where indigenous separatist groups regularly challenge state security forces, and the “Red Corridor” in central-eastern India, where the Maoist Naxalite militant group challenges state control.

While India does not face any ongoing crisis like the one following the 2019 Pulwama attack heading into the 2024 elections, India-Pakistan tensions could flare at any time due to cross-border attacks or terrorist activity. The most pressing issue heading into the 2024 elections is a protest campaign against incumbent president Narendra Modi’s government over a controversial, religion-based citizenship requirement law that marginalizes India’s Muslim population. Such protest movements have the potential to grow and become violent, especially during elections.

March 11, 2024: Protests were reported in the northeastern state of Assam and the southern state of Tamil Nadu in response to the implementation of a citizenship law criticized as discriminatory towards Muslims. The passage of the law in 2019 sparked nationwide protests and lethal violence.

June 7, 2023: Violence broke out in Maharashtra state after Muslims counter-protested a far-right Hindu procession in the city of Kolhapur. Observers blamed the display of extremist behavior on the upcoming 2024 national elections.

May 5, 2021: Post-election violence led to at least six deaths and dozens of burned homes across the state of West Bengal, where Kolkata is located. Authorities reported that rival party members attacked each other and their homes in at least 25 clashes across the state following the defeat of the ruling party.

Disruptions from China Likely Around May 20 Inauguration of New President

Taiwan successfully held presidential elections on Jan 13 with minimal interference from China. However, Beijing has continued to harass Taiwan using a variety of asymmetric tactics intended to destabilize the region and undermine security while avoiding direct military conflict. President-elect Lai Ching-te and his new government are opposed to more Chinese influence in Taiwan and are committed to building up Taiwanese military and diplomatic defenses to deter a Chinese invasion. The new president will be inaugurated on May 20 and high-profile leaders from Europe and the United States are likely to attend the inauguration, despite Beijing’s warnings against foreign interference. In the days leading up to and following the inauguration, we expect to see some sort of response from Beijing either in the form of increased disruptive military exercises, economic punishment, misinformation campaigns, or a combination of all three.

Fall, 2023: Beijing used a variety of tactics to influence the January 2024 elections, including attempted blackmailing of a popular Taiwanese rock band, funding vote-buying schemes by pro-China Taiwanese political parties, and threatening trade barriers against Taiwanese companies.

April 8, 2023: Beijing announced three days of military exercises in the Taiwan Strait rehearsing for future military operations against Taiwan, including an invasion or economic blockade. The exercises immediately followed President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with U.S. Congressional Leader, Kevin McCarthy.

Aug 2, 2022: Beijing rehearsed a naval encirclement of Taiwan over ten days of military exercises that disrupted Taiwanese air and maritime networks. The military exercises were in response to a visit from then-U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Part 2 of this report covers the risks associated with protests in South Africa, Mexico, Moldova, and the United States.