Asia This Week: February 17, 2023

February 17, 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.

A sculpture of Shiva, one of the major Hindu gods, at Unakoti in India’s Tripura state. Tripura held state elections on February 16. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Barunghosh (CC BY-SA 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.

Votes are still being counted in Tripura, where BJP is currently in power.

Umair Jamal, The Diplomat (February 17, 2023): Changes to Indus Water Treaty Could Raise Hostility Between India, Pakistan: Many in Islamabad believe India’s threats are meant to strengthen Prime Minister Modi’s electoral prospects in upcoming general elections.

Economic Times (February 16, 2023): Tripura Elections 2023: Voting for 60 member assembly officially ends, over 81% voter turnout recorded till 4 pm amid sporadic incidents of violence

Sri Lanka Local Elections: March 9, 2023

Sri Lanka plans to hold local elections on March 9, 2023, its first elections since major protests over inflation, shortages, and a general economic crisis began in March 2022. The protests led to the resignation of then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and members of his family. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the former opposition leader, became president. 

Sri Lanka is a hotspot for geopolitical competition between China and India. The Rajapaksa moved the country closer to China.

PTI (February 17, 2023): Sri Lanka EC asks to increase security at government printer ahead of elections

Reuters (February 16, 2023): Sri Lanka hikes power prices by 66% hoping to gain IMF support

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. Prayuth is running for another term, but so is his mentor, fellow royalist military officer Prawit Wongsuwan. They will face the populist faction of exiled former billionaire prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra is running. 

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.”

Business Times Singapore (February 18, 2023): Thai PM to dissolve parliament before term ends next month

Bangkok Post (February 15, 2023): Democrats name Jurin their PM candidate

Francesca Regalado, Financial Times (February 15, 2023): Thai pandemic borrowing binge prompts calls for repayment delays: Household debt emerges as campaign issue with general election looming

AP (February 14, 2023): Thai PM candidate visits lucky locales to boost his chances

Timor-Leste Parliamentary Elections: May 21, 2023

Timor-Leste (also called East Timor) held presidential elections in 2022 that returned José Ramos-Horta to office after he defeated incumbent Francisco Guterres, called Lú-Olo. Ramos-Horta was a leader in the country’s independence movement and served as president from 2008-2012, and before that as prime minister and foreign minister.

Following the 2022 election, Ramos-Horta turned heads around the world when he announced that he would expand bilateral ties with China.

Timor-Leste is a semi-presidential system, with the prime minister holding significant powers. Currently, the prime minister is José Maria Vasconcelos, widely known by his nom de guerre “Taur Matan Ruak,” from Fretilin, the former resistance movement that is now one of Timor-Leste’s two major parties, the other being CNRT, which is Ramos-Horta’s party.   

Since winning independence from Indonesia in a referendum 20 years ago, Timor-Leste has become a democracy rated Free by Freedom House, although many challenges remain.

Nana Shibata, Nikkei Asia (February 12, 2023): East Timor faces economic challenges ahead of joining ASEAN

LUSA (February 13, 2023 – in Portuguese): Timorese president sets legislative elections for May 21

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.

Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat (February 17, 2023): Watchdog Group Adds Cambodia to Human Rights Watch List

AFP (February 13, 2023): Protesters, rights groups condemn closure of Cambodian news outlet

Radio Free Asia (February 10, 2023): Cambodia and China shore up ties with new agreements

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. 

Tricia Yeoh, Friedrich Naumann Foundation (February 13, 2023): Anwar Ibrahim’s first 100 days in office

Joshua Kurlantzick, World Politics Review (February 13, 2023): In Malaysia, Anwar’s Alliance With UMNO Could Be a Dead End

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.

David Hutt, Asia Times (February 16, 2023): Myanmar election ploy threatens to split ASEAN and West

Ye Kyuang Myint Maung, Radio Free Asia (February 14, 2023): Myanmar’s opposition opens foreign ministry office in US

Human Rights Watch (February 14, 2023): Myanmar: Political Parties Law Shackles Opposition

The Irrawaddy (February 14, 2023): Myanmar Junta’s New Voting Machines are Also Vote-Rigging Machines: Observers

Editors, Bloomberg (February 12, 2023): The West Isn’t Powerless in Myanmar: Neglecting the country’s slide into anarchy will only create a bigger crisis.

Ingrain Naing, Voice of America (February 10, 2023): International Media Grapples With Characterizing Myanmar Opposition Government

Bangladesh 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. 

On February 13, Shahabuddin Chuppu was declared president. Parliament had been scheduled to elect a new president (a largely ceremonial role) on February 19, but Chuppu was unopposed and therefore declared president by acclamation. 

Anirban Khaumik, Deccan Herald (February 16, 2023): US airs concern over erosion of democracy in Bangladesh, India extends support to Hasina

Al Jazeera (February 13, 2023): Shahabuddin Chuppu declared next Bangladesh president-elect: Election Commission says the ruling Awami League party nominee was elected unopposed as the 22nd president

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). Recently, KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia traveled to Beijing for high-level meetings.

Reuters (February 17, 2023): Taiwan finds crashed weather balloon on remote island, says it is likely from China

Bao Xiao, The Diplomat (February 14, 2023): Andrew Hsia’s China Visit and the Future of Cross-Strait Relations: The KMT and CCP are seeking to optimize their cross-strait policies in advance of next year’s Taiwanese election

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.

Mere Nailatikau, Lowy Institute (February 14, 2023): Fiji: A chance to stop political history repeating

Stephen Wright, BenarNews (February 13, 2023): Fiji’s leader promises overhaul of draconian media law

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.

Ellen Bork, The Bulwark (February 16, 2023): Beijing-Controlled Hong Kong Tries, Lamely, to Buff Up Its Image

Kelly Ho, Kong Kong Free Press (February 18, 2023): Hong Kong 47: Court told of division among election hopefuls, as democrat Au Nok-hin testifies against peers

Editorial Board, Washington Post (February 12, 2023): In a Hong Kong courtroom, freedom itself is on trial

Regional Analysis

East Asia Forum (February 13, 2023): Dangerous divides bedevil Southeast Asia’s majority-Muslim democracies

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

Timor-Leste Parliamentary Elections: May 21, 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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