May 26, 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.

A boat on the Chaophraya River in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Chainwit (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

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.

Al Jazeera (May 25, 2023): Cambodia’s opposition disqualified from election, appeal fails

Luke Hunt, The Diplomat (May 24, 2023): Cambodia’s Hun Sen Tells Countries to Stay Silent on Election Process

Sam Rainsy, Nikkei Asia (May 9, 2023): International community must not accept Cambodia’s ‘election’

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.

Mimrah Ghafoor, The Diplomat (May 20, 2023): Damaging and Disingenuous: Evaluating the ‘India Out’ Campaign in Maldives

Surinder Singh Oberoi, Newsdrum (May 18, 2023): Tensions rise in Maldives as Speaker Nasheed forms new political party ahead of Presidential election

Radhey Tambi, The Diplomat (May 5, 2023): India Can’t Afford to Lose Maldives Again

Robbie Newton, Human Rights Watch (May 3, 2023): Maldives Press Freedom in Danger

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. 

Ruma Paul, Reuters (May 25, 2023): Bangladesh promises free, fair elections in response to US visa curbs

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.

Bloomberg (May 25, 2023): Taiwan Downgrades Growth Outlook Again as Election Looms

Rishi Jyengar, Foreign Policy (May 15, 2023): Taiwan’s Trump Wants to Make Nice With Beijing: Foxconn founder Terry Gou will be hoping his pro-China message finds more takers than it did in 2020.

Cindy Wang and Samson Ellis, Bloomberg (May 19, 2023): Why Taiwan’s 2024 Elections Matter From Beijing to Washington

AFP (May 7, 2023): Foxconn Founder Vows to ‘Preserve Peace’ With China if Elected Taiwan President

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.

Joseph Rachman, Foreign Policy (May 22, 2023): In Jakarta, Political Kingmaking Starts Now

India, 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 and in Karnataka on May 10, 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.”

Rhea Mogul, CNN (May 24, 2023): ‘Modi is the boss’: Australian leader gives India’s prime minister a rock star welcome

Al Jazeera (May 23, 2023): Overseas Indians cheer for Modi at rally in Australia’s Sydney

Rhea Mogul, CNN (May 18, 2023): India’s ruling BJP has lost its only southern stronghold. What does it mean for Modi?

Astha Rajvanshi, Time (May 16, 2023): A Crucial State Election Loss Underscores Modi’s Waning Grasp in South India

AP (May 13, 2023): Hindu nationalist party loses crucial state election ahead of India’s national vote

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, The Guardian (May 13, 2023): India’s Congress party defeats Narendra Modi’s BJP in Karnataka state elections

Australia, Constitutional Referendum on Indigenous Voice to Parliament: Due in 2023

Angelica Silva, ABC News Australia (May 14, 2023): What is the Indigenous Voice to Parliament? Here’s how it would work and who’s for and against it

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

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.

Reuters (May 20, 2023): East Timor heads to the polls in parliamentary election

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. 

Scott Christiansen, Brookings Institution (May 25, 2023): Thailand’s election of the century

Joshua Kurlantzick, Council on Foreign Relations (May 15, 2023): Thailand’s Elections: Potential Coalition Government Scenarios

Al Jazeera (May 14, 2023): Thailand election results: Opposition trounces military parties

Jonathan Head, BBC (May 11, 2023): Thailand election: The party they can’t stop winning

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

Elaine Lies and Yoshifumi Takemoto, Reuters (May 22, 2023): Riding on G7 success, Japan PM Kishida eyes early election

Isabel Reynolds, Bloomberg (April 30, 2023): Japan PM’s Support Tops 50% Amid Speculation on Early Vote

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 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)

21votes does not necessarily agree with all of the opinions expressed in the linked articles; rather, our goal is to curate a wide range of voices. Furthermore, none of the individuals or organizations referenced have reviewed 21votes’ content. That is to say, their inclusion should not be taken to imply that they endorse us in any way. More on our approach here.

Share This