Asia This Week: July 30, 2021

July 30, 2021

A weekly review of key news and analysis of elections in Asia and the Pacific, usually posted on Fridays and occasionally updated throughout the week. For a full electoral calendar and interactive map, click here.

Merdeka (Independence) Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia will likely hold snap elections. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Haakon S. Krohn (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

Macau Legislative Elections: September 12, 2021

Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, having reverted from Portuguese control to Chinese control in 1999. The main industry is gaming, with a casino sector seven times the size of that of Las Vegas. The legislature is dominated by pro-Beijing politicians, who hold 29 out of the 33 seats, with pro-democracy politicians holding the remaining four.

Most recently, pro-democracy candidates were banned from the upcoming elections, mirroring Hong Kong’s crackdown on democracy.

Macau Business (July 31, 2021): Top court rejects disqualified candidates appeals

LUSA (July 31, 2021): Top court “shreds Joint Declaration by excluding candidates” – Defence lawyer argues

Japan General Elections: On or Before October 22, 2021

Japan is due to hold general elections by October 22, 2021, but they could happen earlier. These come on the heels of Tokyo Assembly elections, in which Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) did not win a majority. Before the elections, the assembly was dominated by the Tomin First party, founded by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, who used to belong to LDP.

In addition, Suga, who replaced Shinzo Abe last year, faces an LDP leadership contest in September. The elections will come on the heels of the Tokyo Olympics, which are controversial among Japanese voters.

Kaname Umeno, Nikkei Asia (July 31, 2021): Japan’s ‘post-Olympics’ curse looms large for embattled Suga: Prime ministers have stepped down each time Japan hosted Games

Tobias Harris, Politico (July 25, 2021): Japan’s Leaders Worry the Olympics Could Hurt Their Global Brand. They’re Wrong. Shinzo Abe hoped the Tokyo Olympics would show that Japan is a respected leader on the world stage. Turns out, it already is.

Hong Kong Legislative Elections: December 19, 2021

Hong Kong is holding elections to the Legislative Council on December 19, 2021, after more than a year’s delay. These elections are taking place in the context of Beijing’s determination to gut Hong Kong’s democracy. More

Eric Cheung, CNN (July 30, 2021): Hong Kong police arrest man for booing Chinese national anthem while watching Olympics

Austin Ramzy, New York Times (July 30, 2021): Hong Kong Protester Is Sentenced to 9 Years in First Security Law Case

Timothy McLaughlin, The Atlantic (July 27, 2021): The End of Free Speech in Hong Kong: The conviction of a pro-democracy activist is a watershed moment.

Suzanne Pepper, Hong Kong Free Press (July 25, 2021): Can Beijing find some docile democrats before Hong Kong’s election season kicks off?

Malaysia Possible Snap Parliamentary Elections and Sarawak State Elections: To be called shortly after the COVID-19 state of emergency ends

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has indicated that he will call early general elections once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Meanwhile, several of Malaysia’s states are due to hold elections in the next year. Specifically, Sarawak is due to hold state elections in August (likely will be delayed), or very shortly after the federal government lifts the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The country’s politics have been turbulent since the historic defeat of UMNO – which had ruled since 1957 – in the 2018 elections. UMNO is back in power but hanging on by a thread. More

AFP (July 31, 2021): Malaysia: Hundreds take to the streets in anti-government protest: Demonstrators demand embattled PM Muhyiddin Yassin resign over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Samuel Aubrey, Borneo Post (July 31, 2021): Dr Sim: No election in Sarawak until after Feb 2, 2022 due to Emergency

Reuters (July 30, 2021): Malaysia extends emergency rule in Sarawak state to stop polls

Eileen Ng, AP (July 30, 2021): Malaysian PM postpones Parliament, avoids no-confidence vote

Eileen Ng, The Diplomat (July 29, 2021): Malaysia PM Under Pressure to Quit After Stern Royal Rebuke

Joshua Kurlantzick, Council on Foreign Relations (July 26, 2021): Malaysia’s Political Crisis Is Dooming Its COVID-19 Response

India, State Elections in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand: February/March 2022 (due)

Five Indian states are due to hold elections in early 2022. These elections will be a key test for the national parties – and PM Narendra Modi.

In addition, Uttar Pradesh held local elections on July 3.

Amy Kazmin, Financial Times (July 28, 2021): Spyware revelations are a crucial moment for Indian democracy

South Korea Presidential Election: March 9, 2022

South Korea holds its presidential election on March 9, 2021. Recently, the conservative opposition won special mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan by a landslide, just a year after President Moon Jae-in’s center-left Democratic Party swept the legislature. Moreover, Moon’s approval rating is tanking.

Sam Kim, Bloomberg (July 28, 2021): Soaring Home Prices Stoke Anger Against Korea’s President

Jung Da-min, Korea Times (July 28, 2021): Economy, fairness to be key issues in presidential election

Jinwoo Kim, East Asia Forum (July 27, 2021): Does South Korea’s youngest political boss have the chops to lead?

William Gallo, Voice of America (July 27, 2021): North Korea Resumes Dialogue with South. What Happens Next?

Philippines Presidential Election: May 9, 2022

In 2016, populist firebrand Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency, claiming to be an outsider. He has governed with an iron fist. Although he is banned from seeking a second term, critics fear that he will seek to consolidate illiberalism in the form of a handpicked successor. Meanwhile, a broad coalition of opposition figures have formed 1Sambayan (One Nation) in the hopes of defeating Duterte’s allies with a united front. Boxing star Manny Pacquiao, a former Duterte ally, has been discussed as a possible presidential candidate for 1Sambayan.

Duterte has made moves to bring the Philippines closer to China and away from the United States during his tenure in office, but has ultimately kept the defense pact with the U.S. in tact.

Feliz Solomon, Wall Street Journal (July 30, 2021): Philippine Leader Reverses Course, Keeps U.S. Defense Pact: President Rodrigo Duterte said he would scrap the agreement in 2020 after the U.S. Senate condemned alleged extrajudicial killings as part of an antidrug campaign

Jun Endo, Nikkei Asia (July 29, 2021): Manila mayor turns heads in Philippine presidential race: Moreno earns praise from Duterte, but stays neutral toward incumbent

CNN Philippines (July 26, 2021): Duterte denies receiving help from China to win 2016 elections

Reuters (July 26, 2021): Philippines’ Duterte taunts ICC, saying war on drugs far from over

The Economist (July 26, 2021): Rodrigo Duterte hopes to outlast his term as Philippine president: He stands down next year, but will be no lame duck waddling quietly off

Cambodia Local Elections: June 5, 2022 and Parliamentary Elections: July 2023 (due)

Cambodia is due to hold local elections in 2022 and general elections in 2023. Although Cambodia has held elections in the past that had some element of competition, the 2018 election – 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.

Radio Free Asia (July 29, 2021): Cambodia Jails Opposition Figure as US Congress Takes Step Toward Sanctions

Ben Sohkean, Khmer Times (July 27, 2021): End of the road: Supreme Court dissolves three parties before elections

Fiji Parliamentary Elections: November 2022 (due)

Fiji is due to hold parliamentary elections in November 2022. In 2006, Josaia Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama seized power in a coup. Since then, the country has held several sets of elections  that Bainimarama has won. Despite concerns about media freedom and political space for the opposition, some observers have deemed the elections credible – Bainimarama has at least brought political stability, making him popular with many Fijians.

Dominic O’Sullivan, The Conversation (July 28, 2021): Fiji’s other crisis: away from the COVID emergency, political dissent can still get you arrested

Radio New Zealand (July 27, 2021): Former Fiji prime minister detained by police over Land Bill comments

Kelvin Anthony, The Guardian (July 26, 2021): Nine Fiji opposition MPs arrested over criticism of land bill

Nepal Snap Elections: Early 2023 (due)

Nepal had planned to hold snap elections in November 2021, following a protracted political crisis, but now the snap elections have been cancelled, and the current thinking is that the parliamentary elections will take place when they are due in 2023. For background: in December 2020, Nepal’s prime minister decided to dissolve parliament and call for new elections. However, on February 23, the Supreme Court overturned the decision, cancelling the snap elections. The government subsequently lost a confidence vote, sparking snap polls. However, the courts reversed the decision.

Nepal sits in the strategically-important Himalayas, and is a focus of competition between India and China. More

Human Rights Watch (July 29, 2021): Nepal: New Government Should Address Rights

Anil Giri, Kathmandu Post (July 28, 2021): US interest, Nepal foreign policy under Beijing’s watch with changes in Kathmandu: China would want to make a push for implementation of BRI projects, just as Deuba government prepares to move the American MCC programme forward, observers say.

Arun Budhathoki and Bindesh Dahal, The Diplomat (July 28, 2021): Nepal’s Cautious Approach to the Tibetan Question

Maldives Presidential Election: September 2023 (due)

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, but Maldivian democrats persevere.

On May 7, a bomb blast hospitalized former president Mohamed Nasheed, one of the main architects of democracy in Maldives. 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. More

Mohamed Sharuhaan, AP (July 26, 2021): Police: IS sympathizers behind attempt on ex-Maldives leader

Meera Srinivasan, The Hindu (July 26, 2021): Solih asks Maldivians to rise against extremism

Thailand, Bangkok Local Elections and Referendum: TBD

Thai officials have said they will schedule elections soon for various types of local elections (such as Bangkok city council). These follow provincial elections that took place in December 2020 and municipal elections in March 2021.

These elections are taking place in the context of unprecedented protests against the monarchy, and calls for unprecedented types of reforms. These protests have been going on for months. More

David Hutt, DW (July 30, 2021): Thailand moves to strengthen EU ties amid US-China rivalry

Tommy Walker, Voice of America (July 26, 2021): Anti-Government Protests Persist in Thailand Despite Record COVID-19 Cases

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

Samoa General Elections: April 9, 2021

Samoa held general elections on April 9, 2021, and after a post-election roller coaster ride, a new prime minister has finally been inaugurated and approved by the courts. A new opposition party, Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST, “Faith in the one true God”), posed a new challenge to the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), which has been in power since 1982.

FAST ultimately won the knife-edge election, but the former prime minister refused to concede and the ensuing political standoff lasted more than three months. Following a court decision, FAST was declared the winner of the elections and Fiame Naomi Mataʻafa was sworn in as prime minister – the first woman to hold the office.

Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson and Maina Vai, The Guardian (July 30, 2021): ‘Women have not been able to hold these positions’: Samoa’s first female PM gets down to the job

Reuters (July 30, 2021): New Samoa PM cancels USD $100 million China-funded port

Patricia A. O’Brien, The Conversation (July 27, 2021): Samoa’s first female leader has made history — now she faces a challenging future at home and abroad

Natasha Frost, New York Times (July 26, 2021): Ending Bitter 3-Month Standoff, Samoa’s Leader Concedes Election Defeat

Burma General Elections: November 8, 2020

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, the military staged a coup, claiming election fraud (despite a lack of evidence). Protests against the coup continue. The military claims it will hold new elections will take place within two years. More

Channel News Asia (July 30, 2021): Myanmar democracy movement moves out of jailed Aung San Suu Kyi’s shadow

Simrin Sirur, The Print India (July 28, 2021): ‘I believe in democracy, that shouldn’t be a crime’ — Myanmar refugees hope for junta’s fall

The Irrawaddy (July 27, 2021): Myanmar Junta Officially Annuls NLD’s 2020 Election Win

Jasmine Chia and Scott Singer, The Diplomat (July 23, 2021): How the Milk Tea Alliance Is Remaking Myanmar: Why the social media-based movement, and not ASEAN, offers a vision for a democratic and federalist Myanmar

Taiwan Presidential and Legislative Elections: January 11, 2020

Taiwan, a robust democracy, held presidential and legislative elections in January 2020. President Tsai Ing-Wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the legislative elections and Tsai herself was re-elected president. The DPP, established in 1986 during Taiwan’s transition to democracy, supports Taiwan’s independence. The main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), founded by Sun Yat-Sen, favors closer ties to the mainland, which it ruled from 1925 to 1948. Relations with China are a dominant theme in Taiwan’s political debate.

Lev Nachman and Ryan Hass, Brookings Institution (July 30, 2021): Examining the role of cross-Strait relations in Taiwan’s politics

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2021 and 2022

Macau Legislative Elections: September 12, 2021

Japan Parliamentary Elections: By October 2021 (snap elections possible)

Timor-Leste Municipal Elections: October 2021 (due)

Tonga General Elections: By November 30, 2021

New Caledonia Independence Referendum: December 12, 2021

Hong Kong Legislative Council Elections: December 19, 2021

Sri Lanka Early Provincial Elections: Late 2021 (proposed)

Nepal Parliamentary Elections: January 2022 (due)

India, State Elections in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand: February/March 2022 (due)

South Korea Presidential Election: March 9, 2022

Timor-Leste Presidential Election: March 2022 (due)

Philippines Presidential and Legislative Elections: May 9, 2022

Australia Parliamentary Elections: May 2022 (due – snap elections possible)

Papua New Guinea Parliamentary Elections: June 2022 (due)

Cambodia Local Elections: June 5, 2022

Nauru Parliamentary Elections: August 2022 (due)

India, State Elections in Himachal Pradesh: October 2022 (due)

Fiji Parliamentary Elections: November 2022 (due)

India, State Elections in Gujarat: December 2022 (due)

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