Asia This Week: December 24, 2021

December 24, 2021

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. For a full electoral calendar and interactive map, click here.

St. Joseph Cathedral in Kuching, capital of Malaysia’s Sarawak state. Sarawak held state elections this month. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Chipmunk (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

Bangladesh Partial Local Elections: January 5, 2022 and Parliamentary Elections: By December 2023

Some of Bangladesh’s towns hold local elections in the coming months. Bangladesh last held general elections to the Jatiya Sangsad (parliament) in December 2018 amid political violence and harassment of the opposition. The next polls are due in December 2022 or early 2023. The Awami League (AL) has been in power since 2009 and is becoming increasingly authoritarian.

On the geopolitical front, Bangladesh has risen in importance in recent years in the midst of high economic growth. More

AFP (December 16, 2021): Bangladesh marks 50 years since liberation war victory

Asif Muztaba Hassan, The Diplomat (December 16, 2021): Bangladesh at 50: On the Path to Becoming a Middle Power

Ali Riaz, New Age Bangladesh (December 16, 2021): Three issues at centre of Bangladesh politics

Michael Kugelman, Foreign Policy (December 16, 2021): Why Did the United States Just Sanction Bangladesh? Action against an elite paramilitary force comes just weeks after Washington emphasized a deepening partnership with Dhaka

Faisal Mahmud, Al Jazeera (December 15, 2021): Are sanctions on RAB a shift in US policy towards Bangladesh?

Ali Riaz, Carnegie Endowment (December 9, 2021): How Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act Is Creating a Culture of Fear

Nepal National Assembly Elections: January 26, 2022 (voting for 1/3 of upper house)

Nepal holds elections for a third of the National Assembly, the upper house of the bicameral parliament, on January 26, 2022.

Nepal had planned to hold snap elections for the lower house 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. Although former prime minister KP Sharma Oli brought Nepal closer to China, his replacement, Sher Bahadur Deuba, who assumed office in July 2021, is seen as favoring closer ties to India. More

Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu Post (December 23, 2021): When should the local elections be held? Election Commission says by May next year. Political parties don’t seem to be prepared.

Achyut Wagle, The Wire India (December 21, 2021): Winds of Political Change As Nepali Congress Party ‘Elects’ New Leadership, Youth Get Priority: Many believe the inner-party democracy demonstrated by the oldest democratic party of Nepal will eventually result in deepening republican democracy in the country.

Yubaraj Shimire, Indian Express (December 17, 2021): Nepal defence minister quits after defeat in internal party election: Rijal had unsuccessfully contested for the post of general secretary from the panel opposed to Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahdur Deuba.

Santosh Sharma Poudel, The Diplomat (December 9, 2021): In Nepal, Calls Grow for the Restoration of a Hindu State: A resurgent Hindu nationalism in the former Hindu kingdom is drawing strength from India’s ruling BJP.

Nepali Times (December 6, 2021): Battle lines drawn for Nepal elections: Politicians and their parties position themselves for the 2023 polls, with secularism and monarchy topping the agenda.

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 two biggest parties, PM Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition Congress Party. Although there have been some concerns about Modi’s increasing authoritarianism, India remains an important partner in combatting China’s attempts to spread its political and economic influence around the world.

India’s next general elections are due by May 2024.

Bibhudatta Pradhan, Bloomberg (December 24, 2021): India Court Urges Modi, Election Body to Defer Local Polls

Kumar Shakti Shekhar, Times of India (December 9, 2021): Farmers’ protest called off: How it may impact upcoming assembly elections

Timor-Leste Presidential Election: March 2022 (due)

Timor-Leste (also called East Timor) is due to hold a presidential election in March 2022. Since winning independence from Indonesia in a referendum 20 years ago, Timor-Leste has become a democracy rated Free by Freedom House, although some challenges remain.

Chris Barrett, Sydney Morning Herald (December 19, 2021): ‘Thousands pleading with me to run’: Jose Ramos-Horta eyes return as East Timor president

LUSA (December 11, 2021 – in Portuguese): Timor Socialist Party votes decisions on support in 2022 presidential elections

Bárbara Reis, Publico Portugal (December 9, 2021 – in Portuguese): A woman and independent, Milena Pires is candidate for President of Timor-Leste

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.

Hae Kyung Ahn, The Diplomat (December 24, 2021): A Bipartisan Consensus on South Korea’s Foreign Policy? The foreign policy platforms of the two leading candidates in South Korea’s upcoming presidential election are more alike than they are different.

Hyung-Jin Kim, AP (December 24, 2021): SKorea ex-President Park, jailed for corruption, is pardoned

Hyung-A Kim, East Asia Forum (December 5, 2021): Tough tests for South Korea’s next president

Philippines General Elections (Presidential, Legislative, and Local): May 9, 2022

Philippines holds general elections on 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. His daughter, Sara Duterte, will run for vice president as the running mate of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the notorious late former dictator.

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, had been discussed as a possible presidential candidate for 1Sambayan, but the alliance ultimately decided to endorse current vice president Leni Robredo.

While the Philippines lacks significant hard power, it is located in a geopolitically crucial area. The country has been a key U.S. ally since World War II, but Duterte has flirted with moves to bring the Philippines closer to China and away from the United States during his tenure in office. However, the country has ultimately kept the defense pact with the U.S. in tact.

Reuters (December 18, 2021): Philippines’ election agency rejects bid to disqualify Marcos Jr

Mong Palatino, The Diplomat (December 17, 2021): Three Decades of Election Protests in the Philippines: Even compared to past Philippine elections, the upcoming presidential polls are shaping up as unusually divisive.

Reuters (December 15, 2021): Philippines’ Duterte quits senate race in new election twist

Richard Javad Heydarian, Al Jazeera (December 14, 2021): What is behind the resurgence of the Marcos dynasty? Former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ son ‘Bongbong’ is on course to become the president of the Philippines in May 2022.

Jairo Bolledo, Rappler (December 11, 2021): At Biden’s Democracy Summit, Duterte vows ‘honest, peaceful, free’ 2022 PH elections

Mong Palatino, The Diplomat (December 3, 2021): Why the Fight for the Philippines Vice Presidency Matters: Whoever wins the number two slot could end up playing a significant political role in the next administration.

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.

Andrew Nachemson, Al Jazeera (December 23, 2021): A new Hun rises: Cambodia’s ruling party meets to plot its future: Cambodian People’s Party set to choose a future successor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest serving leaders.

Mark Tilly, Lowy Institute (December 20, 2021): Hun Sen’s all-encompassing rule of Cambodia: The strongman has anointed his son as successor – after an election, of course.

Radio Free Asia (December 14, 2021): Trial date set for Cambodia’s Kem Sokha: Opposition leader, arrested in 2017, faces charges of treason.

Markus Karbaum, The Diplomat (December 9, 2021): Cambodia’s Leadership Succession: One Small Step Further: Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed his eldest son Hun Manet as his successor. But he did not name a date – and many further questions remain unanswered.

AP (December 9, 2021): U.S. orders arms embargo on Cambodia, cites Chinese influence

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

Australia’s federal parliamentary elections are due by 2022, but snap elections could happen. Meanwhile, several states hold elections in 2021. In the last general elections, in 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party won in a surprise result, after trailing in pre-election polls.

Tensions with China are rising as Australia’s federal government has cancelled several Belt and Road deals. More

Ben Wescott and Caitlin McGee, CNN (December 8, 2021): Australia, UK and Canada join US in diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

Pew Research Center (December 7, 2021): Freedom, Elections, Voice: How People in Australia and the UK Define Democracy

Reuters (December 5, 2021): Analysis-Australian PM, Behind in Polls and Beset by Division, Faces Tough Road to Re-Election

Papua New Guinea General Elections: June/July 2022 (due)

Papua New Guinea is due to hold general elections in June or July 2022.

Michael Kabuni, Asia and the Pacific Policy Society (December 9, 2021): PNG security ahead of the 2022 election

Japan House of Councillors Elections: July 25, 2022 (half of upper house at stake)

Japan holds elections for half of the House of Councillors, the upper house of the bicameral parliament, on July 25, 2022. These follow general elections that took placeon October 31, a bit earlier than the November deadline. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has dominated Japanese politics since 1955, won another term in office, despite somewhat decreased approval ratings in recent months.

The general elections followed the LDP’s September 29 leadership contest. Former prime minister Yoshihide Suga did not seek re-election. Foreign minister Fumio Kishida defeated vaccine czar Kono Taro in a runoff, as well as the hawkish former internal affairs minister Takaichi Sanae and former gender equality minister Noda Seiko.

Thisanka Siripala, The Diplomat (December 8, 2021): Can Japan’s Main Opposition Party Win Public Approval? The new leader of the CDP is focusing on a policy-based approach to rebuild after a crushing election loss.

Taiwan Local Elections: November 2022 (due)

Taiwan, a robust democracy, is due to hold local elections in November 2022.

The country 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.

Stratfor (December 21, 2021): In Taiwan, a Failed Referendum Presages More U.S. Trade — and More Chinese Ire

Reuters (December 13, 2021): Factbox: Taiwan’s referendums and what’s up for a vote

Matthew Strong, Taiwan News (December 3, 2021): Taiwan sets Jan. 9 for recall vote of rock star legislator

Thailand General Elections: By March 23, 2023 (earlier elections possible)

Thailand is due to hold general elections by March 23, 2023, but early elections are possible. In addition, various types of local elections are taking place at various times. 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

Kevin Hewison, East Asia Forum (December 24, 2021): Entrenching authoritarianism in Thailand

Neill Fronde, Thaiger (December 9, 2021): Opposition parties predict election between March and July 2022

Burma Parliamentary Elections: By August 2023 (proposed – tentative, post-coup)

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 by 2023. More

The Irrawaddy (December 17, 2021): Myanmar Junta Minister’s Masterminding of Violent Pro-Military Rallies Revealed

Siladitya Ray, Forbes (December 6, 2021): Deposed Myanmar Leader Suu Kyi Sentenced To Four Years In Prison For ‘Inciting Public Unrest’

Indonesia Presidential and Legislative Elections: April 2024 (due)

Indonesia is due to hold presidential and legislative elections in April 2024. In Indonesia’s April 2019 elections – the biggest single day of voting in the history of the world – incumbent Joko Widodo (Jokowi), widely seen as a reformer, defeated challenger Prabowo Subianto for the presidency. 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 politicsMore

Asmiati A. Malik, The Diplomat (December 13, 2021): Who Will Succeed Joko Widodo as Indonesia’s President? The elections are still two-and-a-half years away, but already the race to the Presidential Palace is heating up.

Malaysia, Early General Elections: To be called, following Melaka State Snap Elections: November 20, 2021 and Sarawak State Elections: December 18, 2021

Malaysia will likely 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. Melaka (or Malacca – located on the Strait of Malacca, a key strategic choke point) held snap elections on November 20, which delivered a victory for the ruling coalition. In addition, Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, is due to hold state elections very shortly after the federal government lifts the COVID-19 state of emergency. In Malaysia’s federal system, state governments have significant powers to make laws for their own states, and the Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah have even more power than the 11 peninsular Malaysian states.

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 as Ismail Sabri Yaakob, from UMNO, became prime minister in August 2021, following protests and general chaos. He replaced Muhyiddin Yassin, who was only in office for 17 months (the shortest-ever tenure of a Malaysian prime minister). More

Union of Catholic Asian News (December 21, 2021): Ruling coalition holds Malaysia’s Christian-majority state: Christians make up about 42 percent of the population of Sarawak, the largest of the country’s 13 states

Anisah Shukry, Bloomberg (December 18, 2021): Malaysia’s Ruling Coalition Retains Sarawak in Key State Polls

Anisah Shukry, Bloomberg (December 17, 2021): Anwar-Led Opposition Faces Sliding Fortunes in Key Malaysia Poll

Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat (December 16, 2021): Malaysia Readies for Crucial Sarawak State Elections: The elections fall amidst an upswing in pro-autonomy sentiment in the eastern Malaysian state.

The Straits Times (December 13, 2021): Malaysia’s Mahathir says next election ‘last chance to clean up the country’

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

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

Zoe Strozewski, Newsweek (December 22, 2021): Hong Kong Sees Lowest Voter Turnout Since 1997 for China-Endorsed Elections

Nikkei Asia (December 22, 2021): Hong Kong ‘election’ takes its democracy closer to one-party China: Political charade only fuels distrust toward Beijing

Timothy McLaughlin, The Atlantic (December 20, 2021): Why Authoritarian Regimes Bother With Elections: Beijing rewrote the rules of Hong Kong’s recent elections, and the result among voters was apathy.

Erin Hale, Al Jazeera (December 15, 2021): Hong Kong gears up for ‘patriots-only’ poll amid boycott calls: Activists in Hong Kong call for a boycott of December 19 vote, saying the poll is a ‘selection’ and not an ‘election’.

Michael Schuman, The Atlantic (December 9, 2021): China Wants to Rule the World by Controlling the Rules

Reuters (December 9, 2021): Jimmy Lai and two other Hong Kong democracy activists found guilty over June 4 assembly

Tommy Walker, Voice of America (December 8, 2021): Hong Kong Stifles Journalists With Threats, Expulsions a Year After Sweeping Security Law

Solomon Islands General Elections: April 3, 2019

The Solomon Islands held elections on April 3, 2019. Manasseh Sogavare, who had previously served several tumultuous terms at different points, was elected prime minister again, ousting Rick Houenipwela, who himself had become prime minister when Sogavare was ousted in a no-confidence motion in 2017. Riots broke out after the elections. Subsequently, the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, a very controversial decision.

Reuters (December 5, 2021): Solomon Islands Prime Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote After Riots

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2021, 2022, and 2023

Bhutan Local Elections: December 22, 2021

Bangladesh Partial Local Elections: January 5, 2022

Nepal National Assembly Elections: January 26, 2022 (voting for 1/3 of upper house)

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

South Korea Presidential Election: March 9, 2022

Australia, South Australia State Election: March 19, 2022

Timor-Leste Presidential Election: March 2022 (due)

Nepal Provincial Elections: April or May 2022 (due)

Nepal General Elections: Spring 2022 (expected – due by March 2023, but early elections likely)

Philippines Presidential, Legislative, and Local Elections: May 9, 2022

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

Papua New Guinea Parliamentary and Local Elections: June 25-July 8, 2022

Cambodia Local Elections: June 5, 2022

Japan House of Councillors Elections: July 25, 2022 (half of upper house at stake)

Vanuatu Presidential Election: July 2022 (due – indirect election, largely ceremonial role)

Australia, Tasmania State Elections: By Mid-2022

Malaysia Snap Elections: August 2022 or later (expected)

Nauru Parliamentary Elections: August 2022 (due)

New Zealand Local Elections: October 2022 (due)

Fiji Parliamentary Elections: November 2022 (due)

Taiwan Local Elections: November 2022 (due)

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

Australia, South Australia Local Elections; November 11, 2022

Australia, Victoria State Elections: November 26, 2022

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

India, State Elections in Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland: February 2023 (due)

Thailand General Elections: By March 23, 2023 (earlier elections possible)

Australia, New South Wales State Elections: March 25, 2023

Micronesia Parliamentary Elections: March 2023

Malaysia State Elections: May 2023 (due)

India, State Elections in Karnataka: May 2023 (due)

Cambodia Parliamentary Elections: July 30, 2023 (due)

Burma Parliamentary Elections: By August 2023 (proposed – tentative, post-coup)

Maldives Presidential Election: September 2023 (due)

Tuvalu General Elections: September 2023 (due)

Singapore Presidential Election: September 2023 (expected – largely ceremonial role)

New Zealand General Elections: October 2023 (expected – due by January 2024)

Bhutan Parliamentary Elections: October 2023 (due)

India, State Elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Mizoram: November 2023 (due)

Bangladesh Parliamentary Elections: December 2023 (due)

India, State Elections in Rajasthan and Telangana: December 2023 (due)

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