The UK press described it as a “love burst” — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s appearance alongside Italy’s neo-fascist leader Georgia Meloni at a Rome far-right festival this month. Sunak’s presence at the festival might have once shocked but no longer: Now, hard-right is the political flavour globally.

Sunak and Meloni have bonded over deterring immigrants. That may seem rich from Britain’s first Indian-origin prime minister but Sunak’s unconcerned about such contradictions as he fights to retain support from his party’s extreme right.

As we near 2023’s close, the world’s moving in two directions. Science and technology are soaring to new heights, offering potential cures for deadly diseases and there’s no telling where artificial intelligence can take us. Politically, though, many nations are moving in illiberal directions with extreme right-wingers, or just plain crackpots, knocking on the doors of power. And finally, there are the wars in Ukraine and Israel. Nobody can guess when they may end or their long-term ramifications.

Life-saving treatments

Looking at the brighter side, scientists say a malaria vaccine being produced at our own Serum Institute of India, could be “world-changing,” offering 80 per cent protection against the killer disease. The WHO has given a thumbs-up to the Oxford University-developed vaccine expected to be priced at an affordable $2 to $4. The world is slimming with anti-fat drugs. Then, there are discoveries like the Galleri test which can detect over 50 types of cancer way earlier than before from a simple blood sample. DNA-editing CRISPR technology is being harnessed to potentially correct muscular dystrophy, sickle cell and other genetic diseases. Artificial intelligence is promoting faster drug discovery and life-saving patient-tailored treatments.

In the work world, AI is going mainstream, amid dire warnings it could outsmart us and threaten our existence. Changes will start coming thick and fast, threatening to automate white-collar jobs in particular. India’s aiming to be a $1 trillion AI economy by 2026 but “upskilling” will be particularly important to help employees thrive in that scenario. Accounting and other data-driven professions are particularly at risk. Lawyers, doctors, journalists, researchers and doctors will all see radical changes to their work specs in the years ahead, though we have one early instance where AI use went spectacularly wrong. Sports Illustrated fired this month its chief executive after the publication triggered a firestorm for using AI to produce sloppy product reviews written by fake authors.

On the political front, the wind looks set to keep a steady rightward course. More than half the world’s population live in countries holding elections in 2024, including in India where Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks assured of a third term after his state wins. Bangladesh and Indonesia are also going to the polls but there’s no likelihood of any regime changes there.

In the Netherlands, famed for hewing to the middle-of-the-road, extreme right-winger Geert Wilders scored a shock victory in elections there last month but still is having difficulty assembling a coalition to take power. Wilders has frequently made incendiary anti-Islamic speeches and, if it’s any comfort, has declared he aims to protect Hindus wherever they’re under attack. In Hungary, authoritarian Viktor Orban has changed the constitution and weakened the courts by appointing friendly judges. Meanwhile in Germany, the extreme-right AfD, which many Germans believed should have been banned, is gaining strength.

Cross the Atlantic to Argentina where Javier Milei, described as an anarcho-capitalist, has just become president.

Milei has devalued the peso by 50 per cent and threatened to sweep away the bureaucracy.

The only significant power player where the left looks set to triumph is Britain with the Labour Party leading strongly in opinion polls after 14 years of Conservative rule marred by humongous corruption scandals..

An election worth watching is in Taiwan where voters will be choosing between the sitting Democratic Progressive Party which is more hostile to China or the more pro-Beijing opposition could decrease chances for conflict.

Without doubt, though, the most widely watched election will be in the US where a vicious, divisive contest is unfolding. Should Donald Trump win a second White House term, despite multiple criminal indictments and trials, critics, like his niece Mary Trump, fear “it would be the end of democracy.”

A second Trump presidency certainly would have worldwide repercussions, turning the US far more isolationist, reducing defence aid to NATO and further diminishing ties with China. Trump’s boast he’d end the Ukraine war in 24 hours has stoked fears it would be at Ukraine’s expense. In short, if Trump does come back to power in the November vote, all bets are off.