Asia This Week: March 3, 2023

March 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.

A street in Kohima, capital of the state of Nagaland in India. Nagaland recently held elections, along with two other states. Photo credit: Wikimedia/The Anonymous Earthling (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

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. 

PTI (March 1, 2023): Nepal PM Prachanda to reshuffle Cabinet, seek confidence vote deferred due to Presidential elections

Gopal Sharma, Reuters (February 27, 2023): Communist rift plunges Nepal’s ruling coalition into crisis

Nishan Khatiwada, Kathmandu Post (February 26, 2023): Presidential elections in Nepal—past and present

Al Jazeera (February 25, 2023): Nepal’s coalition in trouble as deputy PM, ministers resign: The crisis was triggered after the prime minister said he would back an opposition party candidate for president.

Japan Unified Local Elections: April 2023 (next national elections due in 2025)

Kyodo News and Reuters (February 26, 2023): Kishida rallies LDP members ahead of April local elections

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.”

Punchada Sirivunnabood, The Diplomat (March 1, 2023): Party Policies, Factional Politics, and the 2023 Election in Thailand

Richard Ruth, World Politics Review (February 27, 2023): Ahead of Elections, Thailand Is Still a Political Powder Keg

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.

Jonathan Head and Kelly Ng, BBC (March 3, 2023): Kem Sokha: Rights groups condemn Cambodia opposition leader’s 27-year sentence

Erin Handley and Joshua Boscaini with wires, ABC News Australia (March 2, 2023): Cambodian opposition figure Kem Sokha sentenced to 27 years’ detention for treason

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. 

Amy Chew, Nikkei Asia (March 1, 2023): Islamist youth video clip fuels concern in moderate Malaysia

Valerie Rozman and Drake Tien, Lowy Institute (February 28, 2023): Malaysia’s Anwar steps out abroad to bolster his standing at home

AP (February 24, 2023): Malaysia helps poor, raises taxes for rich in 2023 budget

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.

Radio Free Asia (March 3, 2023): Myanmar opposition expels 4 top officials for allegedly assisting military junta

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.

Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (February 27, 2023): Political Infighting Tests Maldivian Democracy as China and India Look On

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

Philip Heijmans, Bloomberg (March 3, 2023): Singapore PM Lee’s Estranged Brother Weighs Presidential Run

India, State Elections in India, State Elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Mizoram: November 2023 (due), and General Elections: 2024 (Following state elections in Tripura, Nagaland, and Meghalaya in February 2023)

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.

In the three border states of Tripura, Nagaland, and Meghalaya, BJP retained its majorities and will form governments, on its own in Tripura and with allies in Nagaland and Meghalaya.

Reuters (March 2, 2023): India’s ruling BJP retains power with allies in three border states

Neeta Lal, Nikkei Asia (February 27, 2023): Does India need smaller states? Recent election reopens old debate

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.

Russell Hsiao, Jamestown Foundation (March 3, 2023): The DPP’s 2024 Presidential Candidate-in-Waiting: William Lai

Yimou Lee, Reuters (March 3, 2023): Taiwan wary of China charm offensive ahead of presidential vote – agency

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.

Ananda Teresia and Stefanno Sulaiman, Reuters (March 2, 2023): Indonesia poll body to push ahead with 2024 elections despite court ruling

Faris Mokhtar and Norman Harsono, Bloomberg (March 2, 2023): Former Jakarta Governor Poised to Become Presidential Nominee

Muhammad Ersan Pamungkas, Lowy Institute (March 1, 2023): How will voters swing in Indonesia’s 2024 general elections?

Erwida Maulia, Nikkei Asia (February 28, 2023): Indonesia pre-election jostling threatens Jokowi’s economic agenda

Sri Lanka Elections: TBD

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.

Uditha Jayasinghe, 2Reuters (March 1, 2023): Crisis-hit Sri Lanka’s public workers protest power tariff, tax hikes

Krishnan Francis, AP (February 26, 2023): Sri Lanka police fire tear gas at election protest; 15 hurt

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

Vietnam Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): April 5, 2021

AFP notes: “[President Nguyen Xuan Phuc]’s sudden departure is a highly unusual move in communist Vietnam, where political changes are normally carefully orchestrated with an emphasis on cautious stability.”

Reuters (March 2, 2023): Vietnam names new president as corruption crackdown shakes up top leadership

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 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)

21votes does not necessarily agree with all of the opinions expressed in the linked articles; rather, our goal is to curate a wide range of voices. Furthermore, none of the individuals or organizations referenced have reviewed 21votes’ content. That is to say, their inclusion should not be taken to imply that they endorse us in any way. More on our approach here.


Share This