Asia This Week: February 3, 2023

February 3, 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.

Fortifications at Mandalay Palace in Burma. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Jialiang Gao (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Upcoming Asia 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.

Mimansa Verma, Quartz (February 1, 2023): In India’s budget plan, Modi has one eye trained on his 2024 re-election

Bibhudatta Pradhan and Abhijit Roy Chowdhury, Bloomberg (January 30, 2023): Gandhi Walks 2,000 Miles to Challenge Modi in 2024 Election

Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, The Wire (January 29, 2023): All You Need to Know About the Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura Elections

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. 

Anu Anwar, The Diplomat (February 2, 2023): Does Anyone Want to Solve the Rohingya Crisis?

Smruti S Pattanaik, Kathmandu Post (February 1, 2023): Dhaka and the geopolitical game: Bangladesh-US ties have been problematic since Sheikh Hasina assumed power in 2009.

Stratfor (January 31, 2023): Bangladesh: International Monetary Fund Approves $4.7 Billion Package

PTI (January 29, 2023): Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina likely to attend G-20 summit: India invited Bangladesh as the only non-member country in South Asia to the summit, to be held on September 9-10

New Age Bangladesh (January 28, 2023): Next election to be held with AL govt in power: Hasan Mahmud

Nepal Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): March 9, 2023

Following general elections in November 2022, Nepal’s two main communist parties formed a government headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, a former Maoist insurgent leader. Prachanda replaced Sher Bahadur Deuba from the social democratic Nepali Congress as prime minister (Nepal’s political parties are mostly various flavors of leftist). Deuba had sought to move Nepal farther away from China and closer to India, but the various communist parties now in power all have strong ties to Beijing.

Nepal’s presidency is a largely ceremonial role.

Michael Kugelman, Foreign Policy (February 2, 2023): Why the United States Is Courting Nepal: Beijing’s growing influence in Kathmandu has prompted high-level diplomacy from Washington.

Online Khabar (January 30, 2023): Nepal presidential election on March 9, 2023

Ajeyo Basu, Firstpost (January 28, 2023): China increases activities in Nepal as Maoist govt takes over

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.”

Reuters (January 31, 2023): Activists urge Thailand’s opposition to scrap royal insult law if elected

Francesca Regalado, Nikkei Asia (January 30, 2023): Prayuth to run against deputy as Thailand primes for elections

Bloomberg (January 28, 2023): Thaksin Daughter Says She’s Confident of Landslide Thai Election Win for Her Party

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

Jonathan Head and Oliver Slow, BBC (February 2, 2023): Myanmar coup anniversary: ‘Silent strike’ marks two years of military rule

Reuters (January 31, 2023): U.S. and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions

Margaret Besheer, Voice of America (January 31, 2023): UN Rights Expert Warns Myanmar Military Planning Sham Elections

International Crisis Group (January 31, 2023): Myanmar: Post-Coup Crisis and a Flawed Election

Edith M. Lederer, AP (January 30, 2023): UN chief backs democracy for Myanmar 2 years after takeover: Two years after Myanmar’s military seized power, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is voicing support for the democratic aspirations of Myanmar’s people

Luke Hunt, Voice of America (January 29, 2023): Pressure Mounts on ASEAN Chair Indonesia to Act on Myanmar

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) held a primary to decide its presidential candidate. Incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih defeated former president Mohamed Nasheed. However, the campaign was bitter and Nasheed has not yet accepted the results or endorsed Solih, which threatens to split the pro-democracy vote ahead of the general election.

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.

AP (January 29, 2023): Maldives President Solih to run again after winning primary

Zaheena Rasheed, Al Jazeera (January 29, 2023): Maldives on edge after bitterly fought presidential primary: Ruling party says President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won the vote, but his rival has alleged fraud and is yet to concede.

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. 

Bloomberg (January 31, 2023): New Zealand PM Hipkins reshuffles Cabinet to focus on key election issues

Tess McClure, The Guardian (January 30, 2023): New Zealand’s Labour party sees boost in polls after Ardern resignation

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). 

Brian Hire, The Diplomat (February 2, 2023): Taiwan Cabinet Reshuffle Sets the Stage for 2024 Presidential Elections

AP (February 1, 2023): Taiwan activates defenses in response to China incursions

Manoj Kumar Panigrahi, Observer Research Foundation (January 30, 2023): Taiwan’s 2022 local elections: What lies ahead? To emerge victorious in the 2024 presidential elections, KMT will have to assure its people that it is not pro-China and intends to preserve the status quo

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.

Bloomberg (February 2, 2023): Jokowi’s Dynasty Takes Shape With Another Son Entering Politics

Chris Barrett and Karuni Rompies, Sydney Morning Herald (January 30, 2023): ‘Jokowi’s crown prince’: The son of a policeman leading the field to be Indonesia’s next president

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

Hong Kong Legislative Elections: December 19, 2021

Hong Kong’s 2021 elections to the Legislative Council took place in the context of Beijing’s determination to gut Hong Kong’s democracy. A draconian new national security law has led to the imprisonment of pro-democracy candidates, activists, and journalists.

In the 2021 elections, only candidates deemed “patriotic” were permitted, and as a result, the legislature is now overwhelmingly pro-Beijing. Hong Kong has a history of vigorous debate and democratic politics and Beijing’s measures are not popular. In that vein, over 89,000 residents left Hong Kong in the year after the national security law took effect.

Now, 47 pro-democracy Hong Kong politicians are on trial for subversion because they organized a primary ahead of the 2021 elections.

Eric Lai, The Diplomat (February 4, 2023): Hong Kong’s Democratic Primary Trials Show a Dark Truth

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2023

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

Nepal Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): 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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