Asia This Week: March 17, 2023

March 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.

Umiam Lake near Shillong, in India’s Meghalaya state, which recently held elections that delivered a win for Narendra Modi’s BJP and allies. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Gargi Gore (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

Australia, New South Wales Elections: March 25, 2023

Mostafa Rachwani, The Guardian (March 17, 2023): Everything you need to know about the NSW election: when is it, how to vote and who will win?

Ursula Malone, Helena Burke, Harriet Tatham, and Courtney Barrett Peters, ABC News Australia (March 12, 2023): Young voters outnumber baby boomers and could hold key to NSW election

Japan Unified Local Elections and Parliamentary By-Elections: April 23, 2023 (next national elections due in 2025)

Mainichi (March 15, 2023): Japan PM faces test on April 23 as 5 parliamentary by-elections set

Rachel Pannett and Julia Mio Inuma, Washington Post (March 15, 2023): YouTuber elected to Japan’s parliament is expelled for never showing up

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.

Stratfor (March 17, 2023): The Significance of Sri Lanka’s Upcoming Local Elections

Nirmala Carvalho, Crux (March 16, 2023): Sri Lanka cardinal calls for elections amidst ongoing economic crisis

The Hindu (March 12, 2023): Sri Lanka’s election commission urges President Wickremesinghe to release funds for local body polls

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 (March 17, 2023): Thailand prepares to dissolve parliament ahead of election

Kaweewit Kaewjinda, AP (March 17, 2023): Thailand’s opposition party unveils policies and candidates

Francesca Regalado, Nikkei Asia (March 16, 2023): Thailand, EU agree to restart trade talks halted by 2014 coup

Thomas Kutty Abraham and Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Bloomberg (March 13, 2023): How Military Has a Thumb on Scales in Thai Election

India, State Elections in Karnataka: May 2023 (due), then 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.

Rajeev Bhattacharyya, The Diplomat (March 12, 2023): BJP Retains Hold in 3 States of India’s Northeast: Election results show that the party has consolidated the inroads it began making in the region only a few years ago

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.

AP (March 14, 2023): Long-serving Cambodian leader Hun Sen hints at retirement

Radio Free Asia (March 13, 2023): Activists say top Cambodian official’s call for smooth election just empty talk

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 15, 2023): Five parties eligible for general election suggest victory for Myanmar military

Tommy Walker, Voice of America (March 14, 2023): UN Security Council Urged to Refer Myanmar to International Criminal Court

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.

N Sathiya Moorthy, Observer Research Foundation (March 17, 2023): Maldives’ balanced global outreach

Committee to Protect Journalists (March 15, 2023): Maldives parliament considers amendment restricting journalists’ coverage of 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.

Henry Cooke, The Guardian (March 13, 2023): Ruthless Chris Hipkins backpedals on climate action as New Zealand elections near

Radio New Zealand (March 13, 2023): PM Chris Hipkins announces second ‘reprioritisation’, with $1b in total savings

Reuters (March 12, 2023): New Zealand govt reverses move to introduce bill to lower voting age

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. 

SM Najmus Sakib, Anadolu Agency (March 12, 2023): Bangladesh opposition not to contest next general elections

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.

Matthew Fulco, Jamestown Foundation (March 17, 2023): Why Taiwan’s 2024 Presidential Election is Wide Open

Reuters (March 15, 2023): Taiwan presidential candidate pledges to protect against China

Farah Stockman, New York Times (March 12, 2023): A Chinese Commonwealth? An Unpopular Idea Resurfaces in Taiwan.

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.

Anne Barker and Mitchell Woolnough, ABC News Australia (March 16, 2023): Can you really construct a new megacity in a jungle and convince millions to move there?

Reuters (March 14, 2023): Indonesia parliament won’t allow power vacuum over election ruling – deputy speaker

South Korea Legislative Elections: April 10, 2024

Steven Borowiec, Nikkei Asia (March 17, 2023): Yoon returns to storm in South Korea after Japan breakthrough

AFP (March 16, 2023): South Korea president arrives in Japan to open ‘new chapter’

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. 

AP (March 13, 2023): Nepal’s newly elected president takes oath of office

Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, Economic Times (March 11, 2023): Game of thrones in Nepal keeps India on toes

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. 

Nick Perry, AP (March 13, 2023): Micronesia’s president accuses China of ‘political warfare’

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

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 23, 2023

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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