Asia This Week: April 21, 2023

April 21, 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.

Landscape in Bobonaro, Timor-Leste. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Hans-Peter Grumpe (GFDL 1.2)

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)

Kana Inagaki, Finanial Times (April 19, 2023): Ukraine and baseball put Japan’s Fumio Kishida back in the game: Prime minister receives approval rating boost from foreign diplomacy push ahead of local by-elections

Thisanka Siripala, The Diplomat (April 18, 2023): Japan PM Escapes Election Bomb Attack: Less than a year after Abe’s murder, violence again erupted on the election campaign trail, raising concerns about how to protect public figures in Japan.

Reuters (April 18, 2023): Suspect in attack on Japan PM had sued government over election -Yomiuri

JIJI (April 16, 2023): Campaigning starts for second half of Japan’s unified polls

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. 

Punchada Sirivunnabood, The Diplomat (April 20, 2023): Thailand’s General Election: Can the Winner Really Take All?

Marwaan Macan-Markar, Nikkei Asia (April 17, 2023): Thailand’s largest opposition faces dissolution fears after election

Timor-Leste Parliamentary Elections: May 21, 2023

Timor-Leste (also called East Timor) held presidential elections in 2022 that returned José Ramos-Horta to office after he defeated incumbent Francisco Guterres, called Lú-Olo. Ramos-Horta was a leader in the country’s independence movement and served as president from 2008-2012, and before that as prime minister and foreign minister.

Following the 2022 election, Ramos-Horta turned heads around the world when he announced that he would expand bilateral ties with China.

Timor-Leste is a semi-presidential system, with the prime minister holding significant powers. Currently, the prime minister is José Maria Vasconcelos, widely known by his nom de guerre “Taur Matan Ruak,” from Fretilin, the former resistance movement that is now one of Timor-Leste’s two major parties, the other being CNRT, which is Ramos-Horta’s party.   

Since winning independence from Indonesia in a referendum 20 years ago, Timor-Leste has become a democracy rated Free by Freedom House, although many challenges remain.

Parker Novak, Lowy Institute (April 18, 2023): Rallies, flags and motorbikes: it’s election time in Timor-Leste

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 21, 2023): Top opposition party youth leader switches allegiance to Hun Sen’s ruling party

Ben Lawrence, World Politics Review (April 19, 2023): Hun Sen Is Tightening His Grip Ahead of Cambodia’s Elections

Radio Free Asia (April 19, 2023): Cambodian court orders arrest of opposition party officials

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 (April 19, 2023): Myanmar’s junta-controlled Supreme Court to hear appeal by Aung San Suu Kyi

James Snell, The Spectator (April 17, 2023): Why the world shouldn’t ignore the brutal war in Burma

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 (April 20, 2023): Bangladesh’s Free Press Is Under Fire

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.

Thompson Chau, Nikkei Asia (April 21, 2023): Taiwan opposition frames election as choice of ‘war or peace’

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.

Reuters (April 21, 2023): Factbox: Who is running for president in Indonesia’s 2024 election?

Chris Barrett and Karuni Rompies, Sydney Morning Herald (April 21, 2023): After World Cup yellow card, Indonesian governor wins key backing for president

Faris Mokhtar and Chandra Asmara, Bloomberg (April 21, 2023): Ganjar Pranowo Is Indonesia Ruling Party’s Presidential Pick

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.

The Diplomat (April 21, 2023): Where Does Sri Lanka’s Protest Movement Go From Here?

PTI (April 19, 2023): Sri Lanka’s local body polls formally postponed indefinitely due to non-availability of funds

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

Bhutan Upper House Elections: April 20, 2023

Bhutan is due to hold several sets of elections in 2023. Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy that has been implementing democratic reforms over the past decade.

Kuensel (April 19, 2023): Nation gears for fourth NC Poll Day

Laos Parliamentary Elections: February 21, 2021

Laos held parliamentary elections and provincial on February 21, 2021. Laos is a one-party communist state. Democracy activists and dissidents face arrest and forced disappearances. Moreover, there is no organized opposition in the country. Therefore, elections are neither free nor fair, and do not offer voters any real choices. 

Joshua Kurlantzick, Council on Foreign Relations (April 14, 2023): Unprecedented Protests Are Putting Laos in Uncharted Waters

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2023

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

New Zealand, Niue General Elections: April 29, 2023

India, State Elections in Karnataka: May 10, 2023

Thailand General Elections: May 14, 2023

Timor-Leste Parliamentary Elections: May 21, 2023

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)

Hong Kong District Council Elections: 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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