Asia This Week: January 27, 2023

January 27, 2023

A weekly review of key news and analysis of elections in Asia and the Indo-Pacific, usually posted on Fridays and occasionally updated throughout the week.

The port of Malé, Maldives. The September 9 presidential election in Maldives may not be on everyone’s radar screen, but it will have geopolitical implications. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Shahee Ilyas (CC BY 4.0)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

India, State Elections in Tripura: February 16, 2023 and in Nagaland and Meghalaya: February 27, 2023 (followed by more state elections later this year and parliamentary elections next year)

India’s states have their own elected governments that have significant devolved power. Roughly one-third of them hold elections in 2023. First up: the northeastern states of Tripura, Nagaland, and Meghalaya, followed by votes in Karnataka, Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana (and possibly Jammu & Kashmir) later this year.

These state elections will set the tone for next year’s Lok Sabha (parliamentary) polls, which determine who runs the government. Narendra Modi’s BJP is campaigning for a history-making third term.

Akshay Rout, Economic Times (January 27, 2023): 2023, the year of elections before the election year

Manyank Mishra, India Today (January 24, 2023): Why Odisha, Punjab, West Bengal and Telangana are so crucial for BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha elections

Shivam Vij, Gulf News (January 23, 2023): Why India’s 2024 elections will be fought on YouTube: YouTube is replacing TV for millions of Indians and politicians are making the most of it

Bangladesh Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament – largely symbolic role): February 19, 2023, followed by Parliamentary Elections: December 2023 (due)

In recent years, Bangladesh has emerged as a bigger player in regional and global politics. Under the government of Sheikh Hasina Wazed and her Awami League (AL) party, the economy has really taken off. But she and the AL have governed in an increasingly authoritarian manner. 

Freedom House notes: “Sheikh Hasina was sworn in for her third term as prime minister in early 2019 following the AL’s overwhelming victory in the 2018 elections, which were marked by violence, intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters, allegations of fraud benefiting the ruling party, and the exclusion of nonpartisan election monitors.”

Hasina’s bitter political rival (and the only other person to serve as prime minister since 1991) is Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Khaleda Zia, who was jailed for a time and is currently effectively barred from participating in politics. Hasina and Zia come from rival families that each played a key role in Bangladesh’s early days as a country. 

Anisur Rahman, PTI (January 25, 2023): Bangladesh to hold presidential election on Feb 19

Shafi Md Mostofa, The Diplomat (January 24, 2023): Big Powers Battle for Influence in Bangladesh: The South Asian country is being courted by the U.S., Russia, and China among others, and officials are making a beeline to Dhaka.

Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizur Rahman, The Guardian (January 22, 2023): ‘They beat me with sticks’: Bangladesh opposition reels under crackdown as thousands arrested

Thailand General Elections: May 7, 2023

Thailand has been led by Prayuth Chan-ocha since 2014. Prayuth initially came to power in a coup, and then became prime minister following elections in 2019. The May elections are likely to pit Prayuth against the populist faction of exiled former billionaire prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra has announced her intention to run for prime minster this year. 

Prayuth’s coup in 2014 removed the government of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. As Reuters notes: “Administrations loyal to Shinawatras have each been removed by the military or judicial rulings, adding fuel to a seemingly intractable political crisis that has ebbed and flowed in Thailand for over 17 years.”

Jeffery Hutton, Straits Times (January 27, 2023): Thailand faces tougher competition for high-tech foreign investments as election jitters mount

Reuters (January 26, 2023): Thai PM walks out of news conference over question on ex-leader Thaksin

Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng, Reuters (January 26, 2023): Thailand, EU look to resume free trade talks by March

Burma Parliamentary Elections: August 2023 (proposed – tentative, post-coup, widely considered likely to be a sham)

Reuters (January 27, 2023): Myanmar army set to cement rule with tough new election criteria

Liam Scott, Foreign Policy (January 26, 2023): U.N. Rapporteur: Myanmar Crisis ‘Has Been Forgotten’: Two years after the coup, the world has moved on, but many Burmese can’t.

The Diplomat (January 25, 2023): Myanmar Military Spokesperson Expresses Uncertainty Over Junta Polls: Frequent resistance attacks have greatly complicated the holding of a stage-managed election this year.

David Hut, The Diplomat (January 25, 2023): How Does The Myanmar Crisis End? The military junta’s possible handover of power to a quasi-civilian “transition council” could create complications for the country’s resistance forces.

Ingyin Naing, Voice of America (January 24, 2023): Uncertainty Shrouds Myanmar Elections

The Irrawaddy (January 23, 2023): 13 Election Commission Offices Attacked by Resistance So Far: Myanmar Regime

Grant Peck, AP (January 23, 2023): Rights group files suit in Germany against Myanmar military: A human rights group and 16 individuals have filed a criminal complaint in Germany seeking punishment of Myanmar’s generals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity

Maldives Presidential Election: September 9, 2023

Maldives is due to hold a presidential election in September 2023. The idyllic archipelago was under a brutal dictatorship for decades, but began a remarkable transition to democracy in 2008. The road to democracy has been somewhat rocky and the former dictator and his family remain involved in politics.

On January 28, the pro-democracy, center-right Maldivian Democratic Party (currently in power) will hold a primary to decide its presidential candidate. Incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih faces off against former president Mohamed Nasheed. Meanwhile, another former president, Abdulla Yameen, who is also brother-in-law of the former dictator, will be the candidate for the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). Former defense minister Mohamed Nazim is also running. 

The country, in the strategically-important Indian Ocean, has been part of geopolitical competition between India and the democratic world on the one hand and China on the other hand. MDP is broadly pro-India while PPM is broadly pro-China.

Al Jazeera (January 28, 2023): Maldives ruling party holds high-stakes presidential primary: Democracy icon Mohamed Nasheed’s political future in balance as governing party voters head to the polls.

Chhotelal Kumar, The Geopolitics (January 25, 2023): Maldives’ Presidential Election and Possible Challenges for India

Taiwan Presidential Election: Early 2024 (due)

Taiwan’s presidential election is due next year. The governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had a poor showing in last year’s local elections, leading to President Tsai Ing-Wen stepping down as party leader.

The DPP is generally seen as more pro-independence than the opposition Kuomintang (KMT). 

Dan Lamothe, Washington Post (January 27, 2023): U.S. general warns troops that war with China is possible in two years: Gen. Michael A. Minihan, who oversees the Air Force’s fleet of transport and refueling aircraft, cited the 2024 presidential elections in Taiwan and the United States as part of his rational

DW (January 26, 2023): Taiwan: Chen Chien-jen announced as new premier

Katsuji Nakazawa, Nikkei Asia (January 26, 2023): Analysis: Xi puts top brain in charge of Taiwan unification strategy: Wang Huning tasked with creating alternative to ‘one country, two systems’

New Zealand General Elections: October 14, 2023

New Zealand’s October general elections got a bit more interesting following the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, considered a star on the global stage but under increasing pressure in New Zealand due to her authoritarian tendencies and failure to deliver on basic campaign promises. 

Ardern cited personal reasons for her resignation, but under her leadership, the Labour Party lost a lot of support. Currently, the center-right Nationals are favored to win the elections, but a lot can happen in a few months. 

Lucy Craymer, Reuters (January 25, 2023): New Zealand’s top PM contender wants to change central bank mandate, Ardern’s policies

AP (January 24, 2023): Chris Hipkins sworn in as New Zealand’s 41st prime minister

Josie Pagani, New York Times (January 24, 2023): Jacinda Ardern, the Star Who Didn’t Quite Deliver

Roy Morgan New Zealand Poll (January 24, 2023): New Zealand: Labour support at only 27.5% in December 2022 – down 22.5% points since the 2020 New Zealand Election before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resigned

Herb Scribner, Axios (January 22, 2023): Chris Hipkins to replace Ardern as New Zealand’s prime minister

Indonesia General Elections: February 14, 2024

Indonesia has scheduled presidential and legislative elections for February 14, 2024, followed by provincial elections on November 27, 2024, ending speculation that President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) would seek to delay the election and extend his term.

In Indonesia’s April 2019 elections – the biggest single day of voting in the history of the world – Joko Widodo (Jokowi), widely seen as a reformer, was re-elected, defeating challenger Prabowo Subianto. Prabowo initially refused to accept the results, and rioting subsequently ensued. Prabowo ultimately did accept the results, but tensions remain, particularly regarding the role of religion in politics

As researcher Evan A. Laksmana notes: “Indonesia could tilt the strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific. It’s the largest archipelagic state in the world and sits at the heart of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The country’s growing economic power, tradition of regional leadership, and control over critical sea lanes seem to predestine it to be a strategic fulcrum in the era of U.S.-Chinese great-power competition.” However, Indonesia has not yet taken a side, instead maintaining “pragmatic equidistance” between the U.S. and China.

Straits Times (January 27, 2023): Jokowi’s two sons likely to contest in Indonesia’s 2024 elections

Reuters (January 24, 2023): Indonesia’s FDI jumps in 2022, led by mineral processing

Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat (January 23, 2023): Indonesia’s Jokowi Registers All-Time High Approval Rating

Michael Vatikiotis, Globe and Mail (January 21, 2023): Is Indonesia morphing into an Islamic autocracy?

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

Fiji General Elections: December 14, 2022

Fiji’s December 2022 elections toppled the government of former coup leader Frank Bainimarama by Sitiveni Rabuka, who himself also previously led a coup (Fiji has had four coups since the 1980s).

On the campaign trail, Rabuka ruled out a security pact with China and advocated for a return to closer relations with Australia.

Al Jazeera and Reuters (January 27, 2023): Fiji suspends police commissioner, ends China policing agreement

Regional Analysis

Christine Rove, Stuff NZ (January 28, 2023): Pacific predictions: What’s on the horizon for 2023

David Hutt, DW (January 24, 2023): Is the EU losing the fight for human rights in Asia?

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2023

Nepal Presidential Election (by Parliament): February 11, 2023 (due)

India, State Elections in Tripura: February 16, 2023

Bangladesh Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament – largely symbolic role): February 19, 2023

India, State Elections in Nagaland and Meghalaya: February 27, 2023

Micronesia Parliamentary Elections: March 7, 2023

Sri Lanka Local Elections: March 9, 2023

Australia, New South Wales State Elections: March 25, 2023

Bhutan National Assembly Elections: March 2023 (due)

Sri Lanka Provincial Elections: March 2023 (due)

Japan Unified Local Elections: April 2023 (due)

Thailand General Elections: May 7, 2023

New Zealand, Niue General Elections: May 2023 (due)

India, State Elections in Karnataka: May 2023 (due)

Hong Kong District Council Elections: June 2023 (due)

Tonga Local Elections: June 2023 (due)

Cambodia Parliamentary Elections: July 23, 2023

Burma Parliamentary Elections: August 2023 (proposed – tentative, post-coup, widely considered likely to be a sham)

Maldives Presidential Election: September 9, 2023

Tuvalu General Elections: September 2023 (due)

Singapore Presidential Election (largely ceremonial role): September 2023 (due)

New Zealand General Elections: October 14, 2023

Philippines Village Elections: October 30, 2023

Bhutan Parliamentary Elections: October 2023 (due)

Marshall Islands Parliamentary Elections: November 2023 (due)

India, State Elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Mizoram: November 2023 (due)

Bangladesh Parliamentary Elections: December 2023 (due)

India, State Elections in Rajasthan and Telangana: December 2023 (due)

Philippines Village Elections: December 2023 (due)

India, Elections in Jammu and Kashmir: Proposed for 2023

Malaysia, State Elections in Six States: Due in 2023 (could be held in July)

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