Asia This Week: January 14, 2022

January 14, 2022

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.

The airport in DIli, Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste has set its presidential election for March 19. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Looper5920 (public domain)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

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.

First up: Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, will hold elections in seven stages from February 20 to March 7.

Sudha Ramachandran, The Diplomat (January 13 2022): India State Assembly Elections: Where Is the Level Playing Field? Multi-phase assembly elections will give parties with deeper pockets like the BJP an undue advantage.

Nidhi Verma and Nigam Prusty, Reuters (January 8, 2022): Elections in India’s most populous state to start in Feb. 10

Timor-Leste Presidential Election: March 19, 2022

Timor-Leste (also called East Timor) will 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.

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. Although Pacquiao is still running, the alliance ultimately decided to endorse current vice president Leni Robredo, who comes from the Liberal Party and has different views from Duterte – the president and vice president are elected separately and Robredo was not Duterte’s running mate in the 2016 election but rather ran on a ticket with Liberal candidate Mar Roxas, who placed second. Marcos is currently leading pre-election polls, with Robredo polling second, but that could change.

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.

Timothy McLaughlin, The Atlantic (January 14, 2022): The Duo Fighting to Preserve Dynastic Rule in the Philippines

David Tristan Yumol, CNN Philippines (January 8, 2022): Election period, gun ban to start on Jan. 9

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. More

Damien Cave, New York Times (January 11, 2022): How the ‘Djokovic Affair’ Came Back to Bite Australia’s Prime Minister

Stephen Evans, The Independent (January 10, 2022): Novak Djokovic case puts Australian government in no-win situation ahead of elections

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 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.

Charles McDermid, New York Times (January 15, 2022): Cambodia’s Internet May Soon Be Like China’s: State-Controlled

Radio Free Asia (January 13, 2022): Cambodian authorities tell opposition party, ‘Take down your signs’: The move comes amid ruling party concerns over the Candlelight Party’s growing popularity ahead of local elections.

Sun Narin and Lors Liblib, Voice of America (January 11, 2022): Jailed, Sick, Still Struggling: A Brother’s Plea to Quit Politics Goes Ignored

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.

In addition, Japanese cities and prefectures hold gubernatorial and mayoral elections at various times throughout the year.

Ryo Nemato, Nikkei Asia (January 15, 2022): Seiji Kihara: The policy guru behind Japan Prime Minister Kishida – Inspired by Margaret Thatcher, the protege also takes cues from Yoshihide Suga

Eric Johnston, Japan Times (January 13, 2022): Okinawa’s busy political year set to have major impact on national security

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.

Scott MacWilliam, East Asia Forum (January 14, 2022): The politics of COVID-19 and military government in Fiji

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.

Brian Hioe, The Diplomat (January 10, 2022): KMT Served Double Defeat in Taiwan’s Latest Recall and By-Election: A recall against independent Freddy Lim fell short, and the KMT’s candidate lost a by-election to fill another seat vacated by a previous recall campaign.

Joyu Wang, Wall Street Journal (January 7, 2022): ‘Revenge Recalls’ Spark Debate in Taiwan: How Much Democracy Is Too Much? Metalhead lawmaker Freddy Lim is the fifth politician to face a recall in the past year; some see benefits for China in elections that ‘never end’

Malaysia General Elections: By May 2023 (early elections highly likely)

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 national ruling coalition. Subsequently, Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, held snap polls on December 18, delivering yet another win for the government’s allies. 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). 

Malaysia sits on a key strategic chokepoint – the Strait of Malacca – and has sought to engage both the United States and China as it seeks to build its regional influence. More

Michael Hart, World Politics Review (January 14, 2022): Business as Usual Won’t End Malaysia’s Political Paralysis

Human Rights Watch (January 13, 2022): Malaysia: Rights Sharply Decline Amid Political Instability

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.

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. 

Neha Banka, Indian Express (January 10, 2022): Explained: Why political parties in Maldives are pushing back against “India Out” protests

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 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, so 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. More

Alice Fung, AP (January 12, 2022): Hong Kong ‘patriots only’ legislature convenes first session

Stratfor (January 12, 2022): A Plan to Expand Hong Kong’s National Security Law Accelerates China’s Takeover

AP (January 12, 2022): Former Xinjiang Security Official Takes Charge of Hong Kong Garrison

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2022 and 2023

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

Timor-Leste Presidential Election: March 19, 2022

Australia, South Australia State Election: March 19, 2022

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

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 General Elections and State Elections: May 2023 (due – general elections likely to be called earlier)

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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