Asia This Week: April 14, 2023

April 14, 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 Bangka Lungshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. Photo credit:
Wikimedia/Ray Terrill (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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)

Lisa Du and Isabel Reynolds, Bloomberg (April 15, 2023): Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Unhurt, Resumes Campaigning After Bomb Scare

Justin McCurry, The Guardian (April 10, 2023): Japan ruling party triumphs in local elections despite criticism over links to Moonies

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. 

Toru Takahashi, Nikkei Asia (April 9, 2023): Can Thailand’s Democrat Party survive upcoming election?

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.

Voice of America (April 15, 2023): Cambodia’s Opposition Hopes for a Silent Surge in Upcoming National Election

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.”

Jess Ma Willa Wu, and Natalie Wong, South China Morning Post (April 14, 2023): District councils to be purely advisory bodies formed by patriots, Beijing’s top official overseeing Hong Kong quoted as saying

Lea Mok, Hong Kong Free Press (April 14, 2023): Half of Hongkongers unable to name any serving lawmaker, poll finds

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.

The Irrawaddy (April 12, 2023): How Myanmar Junta’s Plan to Deceive World With Sham Election Failed

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.

Tess McClure, The Guardian (April 11, 2023): New Zealand Labour tied with National in latest polls, six months out from election

Geoffrey Miller, The Diplomat (April 11, 2023): New Zealand Is Getting Closer to NATO

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.

Shannon Tiezzi, The Diplomat (April 14, 2023): With DPP’s Candidate Pick, Taiwan’s 2024 Presidential Race Begins

AP (April 12, 2023): Taiwan’s ruling party taps VP as presidential candidate

Lauren Sforza, The Hill (April 9, 2023): McCaul says China could influence, take over Taiwan in next election ‘without a shot fired’

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 (April 11, 2023): Indonesia court overturns order to delay 2024 elections

Sri Lanka Local Elections: Postponed indefinitely

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.

PTI (April 11, 2023): Sri Lanka’s local body polls postponed indefinitely due to lack of funds: Election Commission

Democracy in Asia

Lee Chung Lun, The Diplomat (April 13, 2023): The Battle for Democracy: A Look at Thailand and Cambodia’s 2023 Elections

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 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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