Asia This Week: March 31, 2023

March 31, 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.

Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, held elections that led to the end of 12 years of conservative government. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Adam.J.W.C. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

Japan Unified Local Elections and Parliamentary By-Elections: April 9, 2023 and April 23, 2023 (next national elections due in 2025)

Kyodo News notes: “Official campaigning for a series of local elections started across Japan on Thursday, with the results likely to determine whether Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will decide to dissolve the Lower House for a snap general election amid sluggish support ratings.”

Jiji (March 31, 2023): Campaigning kicks off for Japanese local elections

Leika Kihara, Reuters (March 29, 2023): Japan’s Kishida brushes aside speculation of early snap election

India, State Elections in Karnataka: May 10, 2023, 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.

Karnataka, whose capital is the tech hub of Bangalore, currently has a BP government. “Winning Karnataka — the state is home to Bengaluru, India’s IT hub — would energize Rahul Gandhi’s opposition Congress party.”

The Hindu (March 31, 2023): Disquiet down south: On the Karnataka Assembly election

Bibhudatta Pradhan, Bloomberg (March 29, 2023): Narendra Modi’s BJP party faces close fight in India’s swing state Karnataka

Thailand General Elections: May 14, 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.”

Stratfor (March 31, 2023): Thailand Braces for Potential Chaos as Early Elections Loom

Greg Earl, Lowy Institute (March 30, 2023): Paying for a new Thai democracy: The real winners are far from clear, but Thailand’s populist, party jumping election is Asia’s vote to watch this year

Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Bloomberg (March 30, 2023): Thaksin’s 36-Year-Old Daughter Looks to Take Down Thai Generals

Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat (March 27, 2023): Thai PM Launches Election Campaign, Pledges ‘New Political Climate’

Al Jazeera (March 25, 2023): Thai PM Prayuth Chan-ocha to run for re-election: The former general has been in power since 2014 and is running with the new United Thai Nation Party

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.

AFP (March 31, 2023): Cambodian opposition leader appeals against treason conviction

Luke Hunt, The Diplomat (March 27, 2023): Cambodia and Thailand: A Tale of Two Elections

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.

Tommy Walker, DW (March 31, 2023): Myanmar: What’s next for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party?

Al Jazeera (March 30, 2023): US, UK, Japan, Australia denounce dissolution of Myanmar’s NLD: Myanmar’s military rulers disbanded Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party as part of groundwork for holding a new election and to cement their power

International Crisis Group (March 28, 2023): Stage-managed elections in Myanmar may lead to further violence

Shannon Tiezzi, The Diplomat (March 28, 2023): Derek Chollet on How the US Is Handling the Myanmar Crisis

AFP (March 27, 2023): Myanmar junta chief vows continued crackdown, before elections

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.

Edition Maldives (March 30, 2023): Qasim announces candidacy for presidential election 2023

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. 

Arun Devnath, Bloomberg (March 26, 2023): Bangladesh Leader Bets IMF-Mandated Rigor Will Pay Off in Polls

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, various high-level KMT officials, including former president Ma Ying-Jeoh, have traveled to the mainland. Ma’s visit marks the first time a president of Taiwan has visited the mainland since the end of the civil war in 1949.

Haley Ott, CBS News (March 31, 2023): China-Taiwan tension is soaring and the U.S. is directly involved. Here’s what to know

Reuters (March 27, 2023): Foxconn founder Gou, possible Taiwan presidential candidate, to visit US

Indonesia General Elections: February 14, 2024

Indonesia is due to hold general elections in February 2024, but the Central Jakarta District Court issued a surprise ruling that would delay the elections to 2025 at the earliest. The ruling was made in response to a complaint from PRIMA, a new political party, which contested the election commission’s decision not to allow it to compete in the 2024 elections. 

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.

Resty Woro Yuniar, South China Morning Post (March 31, 2023): Indonesia 2024 election: Ganjar has Jokowi’s vote, but will Prabowo be his vice-president?

Al Jazeera (March 29, 2023): Surprise delay to Indonesia elections labelled unconstitutional: A Jakarta court has ruled that elections set for 2024 cannot take place until at least 2025, a decision that seems to go against the constitution

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

Australia, New South Wales Elections: March 25, 2023

New South Wales, Australia’s biggest state, held state elections on March 25. Labor won, ending 12 years of conservative Liberal/National government. NSW was the last mainland state to have a conservative government – now all of the states (except for the island of Tasmania) have Labor governments, and Labor controls the federal government following the 2022 elections.

Reuters (March 26, 2023): Labor party takes power in ‘fresh start’ for Australia’s biggest state

Ben Westcott and Tracy Withers, Bloomberg (March 25, 2023): Labor Wins NSW State Election, Sealing Australia’s Left Turn

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.

Tim Hamlett, Hong Kong Free Press (March 30, 2023): Hong Kong’s new protest regulations are designed by those who don’t like protests

Brian Wong, South China Morning Post (March 29, 2023): Unofficial primary election organiser blamed for nurturing ‘radical’ activists in Hong Kong by former ally

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2023

Japan Unified Local Elections (first stage), plus various gubernatorial elections: April 9, 2023

Bhutan Upper House Elections: April 20, 2023

Japan, Unified Local Elections, Second Stage: April 23, 2023

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

Thailand General Elections: May 14, 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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