Asia This Week: February 10, 2023

February 10, 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.

Milford Sound, New Zealand. New Zealand is gearing up for general elections in October. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Wikikiwiman (public domain)

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.

Sameer P. Lalwani, Daniel Markey, Tamanna Salikuddin, and Vikram J. Singh, U.S. Institute of Peace (February 8, 2023): What to Watch in 2023: India’s Pivotal Year on the Global Stage

Prerna Katiyar, Economic Times (February 4, 2023): Assembly polls: What is at stake for political parties in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland this month?

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 politics remain unstable, with citizens broadly unsatisfied by the performance of elected officials. 

United States Institute of peace (February 8, 2023): In Nepal, Post-Election Politicking Takes Precedence Over Governance: The latest bout of coalition politics glosses over the country’s troubling drift toward further political instability.

The Diplomat (February 8, 2023): Key Ally Quits Government in Nepal: While a month is not enough to judge the fledgling party, the Rastriya Swatantra Party has shown itself to be no different from the others.

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

Six of Malaysia’s 13 states are due to hold elections in 2023. Under Malaysia’s federal system, significant powers are devolved to state governments.

On the national scene, Malaysia held general elections in November 2022 that produced a hung parliament – the first time in the country’s history that no coalition succeeded in securing a majority. The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) won the most seats in a historic result, but two dominant coalitions – the Malay-dominated conservative Barisan Nasional (the country’s dominant party since independence) and Anwar Ibrahaim’s liberal Pakatan Harapan put aside major differences to form a secularist unity government. 

In addition, UMNO – Malaysia’s oldest political party and the dominant member of the Barisan Barisan Nasional coalition – is holding a leadership election this year which could be very vigorously contested.

Malaysia’s location on the Strait of Malacca and straddling the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean makes it crucial to the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. 

Kok Leong Chan, Bloomberg (February 10, 2023): Anwar Gets Approval Ratings Boost Ahead of Malaysia Local Polls

Murray Hunter, Free Malaysia Today (February 8, 2023): 5 factors that could set PH’s fate in Selangor polls

Ravil Shirodkar, Bloomberg (February 7, 2023): Malaysia Unity Government Allies to Face State Polls Together

James Chai, Fulcrum Singapore (February 6, 2023): PAS and the Midterm Polls: Existential Challenge of Becoming a National Party

Cambodia Parliamentary Elections: July 23, 2023

Although Cambodia has held elections in the past that have had some element of competition, the 2018 elections – neither free nor fair – signified the closing of Cambodia’s political space. They have been called “the death of democracy.”

The main pro-democracy opposition, Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved and banned from fielding candidates, and its leader, Sam Rainsy, was sent into exile, so its supporters boycotted the polls, resulting in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) taking 58 out of 62 seats in parliament, and allowing Prime Minister Hun Sen to consolidate even more power while extending his three decades in power.

However, in early 2022, the opposition began gaining ground, reorganizing itself into the Candlelight Party. In the June local elections, the party made some gains, winning around 22 percent of the vote. Opposition activists hope that will translate into a stronger result in the 2023 elections.

David Hutt, The Diplomat (February 7, 2023): What’s a Decent Outcome For Cambodia’s Opposition At the Upcoming Election?

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

Burma, also called Myanmar, held general elections on November 8, 2020. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide. However, on February 1, 2021 the military staged a coup, claiming election fraud (despite a lack of evidence).

Burma is of geopolitical importance because of its location on the Indian Ocean. China has sought to cultivate ties in order to get more access to the Indian Ocean, and simultaneously, western governments have at times pursued warmer relations with the regime.

Bloomberg (February 7, 2023): How Myanmar’s Military Hangs On to Power Despite Sanctions

Radio Free Asia (February 6, 2023): Myanmar’s opposition party refuses to re-register under new junta law: Legal step appears aimed at keeping the National League of Democracy from running in elections

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.

Chris Hipkins succeeded Ardern as prime minister and immediately began rolling back some of her restrictions on speech and other authoritarian policies, saying instead that the Labour Party should focus on bread-and-butter issues.

Ben McKay, Australian Associated Press (February 7, 2023): NZ PM Hipkins takes the axe to Ardern-era policies

Matthew Knott, Sydney Morning Herald (February 7, 2023): New Zealand’s new PM vows to speak out on China despite close trade ties

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). 

Bloomberg (February 8, 2023): Xi woos Taiwan opposition ahead of pivotal presidential vote

AP (February 8, 2023): Taiwan opposition leader in China as Beijing ups pressure

South Korea Legislative Elections: April 10, 2024

Kim Tong-Hyung, AP (February 8, 2023): South Korean minister impeached over Itaewon crowd crush

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.

Blake Johnson and Lucy Albiston, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (February 8, 2023): Rapid changes in Fiji require a delicate balance of support

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.

Steve Inskeep and Mohamed Elbardicy, NPR (February 8, 2023): Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders who took part in a primary election go on trial

Kathleen Magramo, CNN (February 6, 2023): Landmark national security trial of Hong Kong democracy activists begins. Here’s what you need to know

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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