Asia This Week: April 7, 2023

April 7, 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 Hokkaido Shrine in Sapporo, Japan. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Daigaku2051 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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.”

Akira Kitado, Nikkei Asia (April 8, 2023): Japan has a candidate shortage for local elections on Sunday

Corey Wallace, Tokyo Review (April 6, 2023): Japan’s Unified Local Elections: What to Watch For

Stephen Wade and Yuri Kageyama, AP (April 6, 2023): Sapporo Election Could Restart Bid for 2030 Winter Olympics

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.

Bhavani Fonseka, The Diplomat (April 1, 2023): Is Transformation Possible in Sri Lanka? One year after the protests that ousted Sri Lanka’s president and government, reforms remain elusive and the national crisis is far from over.

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.”

Sumit Ganguly, Foreign Policy (April 7, 2023): Modi’s Party Deals Its Main Opposition a Final Blow: Rahul Gandhi’s expulsion from Parliament leaves the Indian National Congress party little time to recover ahead of next year’s national elections.

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.”

Mazoe Ford and Supattra Vimonsuknopparat I, ABC News Australia (April 7, 2023): An uber-rich dynasty has dominated Thai politics for years. Is Paetongtarn Shinawatra ready to rise?

Vijitra Duangdee, Voice of America (April 5, 2023): Thailand’s Shinawatra Bets on Family Name, Cash Handouts to ‘Take Back Our Democracy’

Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat, Reuters (April 5, 2023): Generals, tycoon and political neophyte among PM candidates as Thailand heads into election

Francesca Regalado, Nikkei Asia (April 4, 2023): Thailand election becomes game of economic handouts, nostalgia

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 (April 7, 2023): Candlelight Party starts first protest in years, but police quickly shut them down

Lors Liblib, Voice of America (April 4, 2023): Cambodian Youth Petition Government to Reinstate Broadcaster

AFP (April 3, 2023): Cambodian Opposition Leader Appeals against Treason Conviction

Radio Free Asia (April 3, 2023): Hun Sen’s eldest son tops Cambodian ruling party’s candidate list ahead of July vote

Radio Free Asia (March 31, 2023): Cambodia faces July election without international observers

Hong Kong District Council Elections: June 2023 (due – unlikely to be free or fair if they happen)

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.

Natalie Wong at the South China Morning Post notes: “Months before the district election was expected to be held, an insider familiar with the plan said the 1,440-strong Election Committee might be given power to pick ‘a significant number’ of councillors in the municipal bodies, once the bastion of the now decimated opposition camp….Another source said he had also heard of the plan, adding that together with the possible resumption of a government appointment mechanism, ‘less than half’ of the seats would be chosen by the public.”

Natalie Wong, South China Morning Post (March 31, 2023): Hong Kong authorities may fill most district council seats through appointment or vote by pro-Beijing committee, sources say

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. 

Leslie Lopez, Channel News Asia (April 4, 2023): Commentary: The politics of Malaysia PM Anwar’s trips to Saudi Arabia and China

Sophie Lemière, The Diplomat (April 3, 2023): Anwar Ibrahim, Prisoner of Political Allegiances? Having finally scaled the pinnacle of his country’s politics, will political compromises now undermine Anwar’s dream of a genuinely democratic Malaysia?

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.

Igor Blazevic, The Irrawaddy (April 4, 2023): Myanmar Junta’s ‘Election Plan’ Is Just a PSYOPS Operation That Will Fail

William Echols, (April 4, 2023): After Banning Opposition Parties, Myanmar Junta Chief Falsely Promises ‘Free and Fair Elections’

Editorial Board, Washington Post (April 4, 2023): No fake election can disguise the violence and repression in Myanmar

Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat (April 3, 2023): What the Dissolution of the NLD Means For Myanmar’s Conflict

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.

Reuters (April 5, 2023): Foxconn founder Gou says he will seek Taiwan presidency

Dave Lawler and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios (April 5, 2023): McCarthy meets Taiwan President Tsai despite China’s threats

AFP (April 1, 2023): After contentious US visit, Taiwan’s president arrives in Central America

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.

Tim Lindsey and Simon Butt, Channel News Asia (April 3, 2023): Commentary: The idea of Indonesia President Jokowi staying in power just won’t go away

John McBeth, Asia Times (April 3, 2023): Indonesia: political football an own goal for ruling PDI-P: Football furor has widened a split between President Widodo and PDI-P leader Megawati just months before crucial 2024 elections

Asia Sentinel (April 3, 2023): Suharto’s Clan: Still in Business, Stumbling in Politics

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.

Bang Xiao, ABC News Australia (April 3, 2023): Chinese-Australians’ political awakening was a big factor in Labor’s win in Aston

Grant Wyeth, The Diplomat (March 31, 2023): Is Australia’s Liberal Party in Terminal Decline? What saves political parties is their ability to adapt, but the aggressive populism that has saved conservative parties elsewhere has limited appeal in Australia.

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)

Australia Indigenous Voice Referendum: Between October and December 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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