Asia This Week: February 24, 2023

February 24, 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.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Vyacheslav Argenberg (CC BY 4.0)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

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

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.

Times of India (February 25, 2023): Northeast polls: What past trends tell us about polls in Tripura, Meghalaya & Nagaland

Bibhudatta Pradhan and Abhijit Roy Chowdhury, Bloomberg (February 25, 2023): India Congress to Form Alliance to Take on Modi in 2024 Election

Nikkei Asia (February 25, 2023): Modi opponents eye Rahul Gandhi as unifying force

Vbiha Sharma, Tribune India (February 24, 2023): 2024 general elections: Is an anti-BJP coalition a dream or a tangible possibility?

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. 

Santosh Ghimire, India Narrative (February 25, 2023): Prachanda ditches Oli, agrees to elect Congress candidate as Nepal’s next president

The Diplomat (February 23, 2023): Nepal’s New Government Faces a Stiff Test: Dahal’s return to power could reset Nepal’s foreign policy – but first he’ll have to survive an unstable coalition and disgruntled electorate.

OnlineKhabar (February 22, 2023): Nepal presidential election: 6 things you should know 

Sri Lanka Local Elections: March 9, 2023 (cancelled)

Sri Lanka had planned 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. However, the elections have been called off. 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.

Rathindra Kuruwita, The Diplomat (February 21, 2023): Sri Lanka Government Develops Cold Feet, Calls Off Local Elections

Asantha Sirimanne and Anusha Ondaatjie, Bloomberg (February 20, 2023): Sri Lanka Election Commission Says Lacks Funds to Hold Polls

Bharatha Mallawarachi, AP (February 20, 2023): Sri Lankan police disperse protesters demanding election

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.”

Reuters (February 21, 2023): Thailand election likely on May 7, PM says

Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat (February 21, 2023): Prayut Closes the Gap in Preferred Choice for Thailand’s Next PM: A new poll shows the Thai leader as the preferred candidate among respondents in the capital Bangkok.

Juarawee Kittisilpa, Reuters (February 19, 2023): Exclusive: Daughter of Thaksin banking on nostalgia to win Thailand election

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.

Parker Novak, Lowy Institute (February 21, 2023): Gusmão, Alkatiri and Greater Sunrise: Timor-Leste calls parliamentary election

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. 

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. 

Rhea Yasmine Bte Alis Haizan and Najmi Syahiran Mamat, Channel News Asia (February 20, 2023): Islamic party in Malaysia under probe after members stage march with fake swords, spears and shields

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.

Jason Tower, U.S. Institute of Peace (February 24, 2023): The Limits of Beijing’s Support for Myanmar’s Military: With the junta in a weaker position, China recalibrates its approach with an eye to expanding its influence in Myanmar.

Radio Free Asia (February 21, 2023): Myanmar junta’s switch to electronic voting won’t bode well for voters, analysts say

Voice of America (February 20, 2023): EU Imposes New Sanctions on Myanmar as Violence Escalates

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. 

Shaikh Azizur Rahman, Voice of America (February 23, 2023): Shutdown of Opposition Newspaper by Bangladesh Government Draws Criticism

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.

Thompson Chau, Nikkei Asia (February 23, 2023): Taiwan girds for close presidential race amid China pressure

AFP (February 20, 2023): Chinese delegation gets ‘warm reception’ in rare visit to Taipei

Al Jazeera (February 20, 2023): Taiwan’s KMT hopes for elections boost after China trip: Opposition party that once dominated the self-ruled island aims to show it can work better with Beijing than ruling DPP.

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.

Ross Taylor, The West Australian (February 19, 2023): Infamous Prabowo Subianto’s presence at Richard Marles, Penny Wong meeting ‘interesting’

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

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

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

Bhutan National Assembly Elections: April 20, 2023

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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