March 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.

The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The temple houses a relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Photo credit; Wikimedia/A.Savin (FAL)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

Australia, New South Wales Elections: March 25, 2023

ABC News Australia (March 9, 2023): Both major parties in NSW face an uphill battle to win the March state election

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

Yomuri Shimbun (March 9, 2023): 980 Races Expected in Japan’s Upcoming Local Elections

Jiji (March 6, 2023): Upcoming April by-elections likely litmus test for Kishida’s leadership

Sri Lanka Local Elections: April 25, 2023 (additional delays possible)

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 government called them off. A court subsequently ordered that they be held, and the election commission has announced the they will take place on April 25. 

The protests last year 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.

AFP (March 9, 2023): Sri Lanka court orders delayed local election to go ahead

PTI (March 7, 2023): Sri Lanka to hold local election on April 25: Election Commission

Reuters (March 7, 2023): Sri Lanka expects approval of $2.9 billion IMF deal after China support

Munza Mushtaq, Nikkei Asia (March 7, 2023): Sri Lanka says IMF aid in reach after year of anger, hunger and fear

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.”

Marwaan Macan-Markar, Nikkei Asia (March 11, 2023): Thailand generals’ election rivalry places military on new footing: PM Prayuth, Deputy PM Prawit poised to compete for votes — and army support

Vijitra Duangdee, Voice of America (March 8, 2023): Thai Hunger Strikers Drive Debate on Royal Defamation Law

Tan Tam Mei, Straits Times (March 6, 2023): In Thailand, Shinawatra legacy endures in family-linked party as election looms

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.

Radio Free Asia (March 10, 2023): Exiled opposition leader supports Cambodian defense minister’s son as PM candidate

Sopping Cheang and Grant Peck, AP (March 3, 2023): Cambodian opposition leader gets 27 years on treason charge

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. 

AP (March 10, 2023): Malaysia ex-PM Muhyiddin charged with corruption, laundering

Reuters (March 10, 2023): Analysis: With another ex-prime minister charged, Malaysia risks further turmoil

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, The Diplomat (March 10, 2023): Myanmar’s NUG Rebel Government Needs Money: Western financial aid to the opposition movement could help unify the anti-junta resistance, and even tip the balance in its favor.

Ye Myo Hein, U.S. Institute of Peace (March 9, 2023): Myanmar’s Criminal Junta Will Do Anything to Consolidate Power: Military abandons plans for August elections, dashing naïve hopes that the would-be sham polls provided a path to stability.

Joshua Kurlantzick, Council on Foreign Relations (March 9, 2023): War-Torn Myanmar Plans to Hold Elections. Will They Matter?

AFP (March 9, 2023): Myanmar junta hints at further election delay

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

William Zheng, South China Morning Post (March 9, 2023): ‘My answer is no’: Singapore’s George Yeo rules out presidential run

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. 

Mubashar Hasan, The Diplomat (March 10, 2023): Can Bangladesh’s Election Commission Act to Boost Its Credibility?

Taiwan Presidential and Legislative Elections: January 13, 2024

Taiwan’s 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.

Hideaki Ryugen, Nikkei Asia (March 11, 2023): Taiwan sets next presidential election for January 2024: Successor to Tsai Ing-wen to be chosen with legislative races held at same time

Reuters (March 6, 2023): First Taiwan presidential contender to visit U.S. next month

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.

Reuters (March 6, 2023): Indonesia leader backs election body appeal against court ruling calling for poll delay

Resty Woro Yuniar, South China Morning Post (March 6, 2023): Indonesian ‘bizarre’ court ruling on election delay controversial, Jokowi says

South Korea Legislative Elections: April 10, 2024

Jeong-Ho Lee, Bloomberg (March 9, 2023): South Korea’s Yoon gets much-needed boost with new party boss

Nikkei Asia (March 5, 2023): Can South Korea escape domestic politics to end wartime labor row?

Past 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. 

Al Jazeera (March 9, 2023): Nepal MPs vote for new president amid political uncertainty

Arpal Gelal, The Diplomat (March 7, 2023): China Loses Ground in Nepal: The recent political shake-up in the government has cost Beijing the upper hand in the contest for geopolitical influence

Rakesh Sood, The Hindu (March 4, 2023): Nepal’s coalition politics, a game of musical chairs

Micronesia Parliamentary Elections: March 7, 2023

President David Panel lost his seat in Congress in the March 7 Micronesia elections and is thus expected to lose his office when Congress chooses a president on May 11. Many expect it will be former president Peter Christian will be elected again. 

Cleo Paskal, The Diplomat (March 10, 2023): Micronesia’s President Writes Bombshell Letter on China’s ‘Political Warfare’

Radio New Zealand (March 10, 2023): Panuelo out as ex-President likely to become new Micronesian leader

Kirsty Needham, Reuters (March 10, 2023): Pacific’s Micronesia in talks to switch ties from Beijing to Taiwan- letter

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.

Nick Perry, AP (March 9, 2023): Fiji’s former leader Frank Bainimarama released on bail

Ben McKay, Sydney Morning Herald (March 8, 2023): Punished for incendiary speech, former Fiji leader Bainimarama resigns as MP

Philippines Presidential and Legislative Elections: May 9, 2022

Kate Blackwood, Cornell Chronicle (March 9, 2023): Philippine study analyzes Marcos family return to power

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.

Chan Ho-him and Primrose Riordan, Financial Times (March 5, 2023): Hong Kong political elite pressed to give up western passports: Beijing denied at least one delegate a parliamentary seat because they held a foreign travel document

Great Power Competition

Matthew Lee, AP (March 9, 2023): Biden budget aims at China with billions for Pacific islands

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2023

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

Bhutan National Assembly Elections: April 20, 2023

Sri Lanka Local Elections: April 25, 2023 (additional delays possible)

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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