Asia This Week: March 4, 2022

March 4, 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.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple near Busan, South Korea. South Korea holds a presidential election this month. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Londenp (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ongoing 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 – ahead of national elections in 2024. In the last national elections, in 2019, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a “thumping victory, securing a second term in office in an increasingly polarized political climate. The main opposition social democratic Congress Party – India’s oldest party – has done well some subsequent state elections.

First up for this round of state polls: Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, will hold elections in seven stages from February 10 to March 7. The BJP currently dominates the state legislature, and the Chief Minister is controversial Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath.

Punjab will also vote on February 20. The state government is currently led by Congress Party. Manipur – currently led by BJP – votes on February 28 and March 5.

Gujarat (Modi’s home state) is due to vote later this year, and a handful of other states go to the polls in 2023.

Suprakash Majumdar, Foreign Policy (March 3, 2022): The Dalit Politician Shaking Up Uttar Pradesh’s Elections

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

South Korea Presidential Election: March 9, 2022

South Korea holds its presidential election on March 9, 2021. Recently, the conservative opposition People Power Party 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.

Four candidates will contest the March presidential election. The frontrunners are retired civil rights lawyer and former Gyeonggi Province (the most populous province that includes Seoul) governor Lee Jae-myung from the Democratic Party and former prosecutor general Yoon Suk-yeol from the People Power Party. Yoon is leading pre-election polls. Ahn Cheol-soo and Sim Sang-jeung, both from small parties, are also running. The campaign has generally been nasty and neither major candidate is particularly popular with voters or with his respective party – both won their primaries narrowly.

South Korea is a key United States ally, and the South Korean public broadly supports the alliance. However, Moon has pursued diplomatic and economic engagement with North Korea and moved closer to China.

AFP (March 5, 2022): North Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of South’s election

The Economist (March 5, 2022): South Korea’s presidential election springs a last-minute surprise: It will not help improve the mood of the electorate

Scott A. Snyder, Council on Foreign Relations  (March 3, 2022): South Korea’s Presidential Election: What to Know

Christian Davies, Financial Times (March 3, 2022): South Korea’s raucous politics: presidential election defined by mudslinging and scandal

Malaysia, Early State Elections in Johor: March 12, 2022 and Early General Elections: Expected

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. 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.

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, subsequently held state elections very shortly after the federal government lifts the COVID-19 state of emergency, and Sabah, the other Borneo state, also held polls.

Next up: Johor, which borders Singapore, will hold snap elections on March 12, 2022 after the state’s chief minister dissolved the state legislature (elections were originally due in 2023).

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

Channel News Asia (March 5, 2022): Commentary: What if Johor elections are Mahathir’s last?

John Berthelsen, Asia Sentinel (March 3, 2022): Malaysia’s Fraught State Election: Masses of new voters, a vibrant new party, resurgent ‘Bossku’ on the stump

Ram Anand, Straits Times (February 28, 2022): Malaysia’s King calls for continued political stability amid expected push for snap polls

Nicholas Chung, Free Malaysia Today (February 26, 2022): Johor polls: A repeat of Melaka on the cards?

Shannon Teoh, Straits Times (February 26, 2022): Crowded field in Johor election as rivals hope to usurp Umno

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.

The current president, Francisco Guterres, called Lú-Olo, was elected in 2017.

Ryan Dagur, Union of Catholic Asian News (March 1, 2022): Timor-Leste presidential candidates sign unity pact: Traditional rituals seek blessing of ancestors to ensure a peaceful election and no confrontations between supporters

Hong Kong Chief Executive Election: May 8, 2022 (indirect)

Hong Kong held 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 and 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. 

On May 8, 2022 (delayed from March), an Election Committee consisting of 1463 people – primarily pro-Beijing politicians and business figures – will choose the Chief Executive. Incumbent Carrie Lam is eligible to run for a second term, but it is unclear whether she will, and the process has been characterized by a lack of transparency and a heavy hand from Beijing. More

Suzanne Pepper, Hong Kong Free Press (March 5, 2022): Selecting a new chief executive: Delayed and disrupted, Hong Kong’s first election cycle since Beijing’s overhaul nears its end

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, who is not actually politically aligned with Duterte (in the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately, and Robredo ran in the last election on the Liberal Party ticket in opposition to Duterte).

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.

Cristina Eloisa Baclig, Inquirer (March 3, 2022): Survey says: Not all pre-election polls are reliable

Alex Lee, Brown Political Review (March 2, 2022): Personality Politics in the 2022 Philippine Elections

John Lavenburg, Crux (March 1, 2022): Ahead of elections, Philippines bishops warn against nostalgia for martial law era

Sofia Tomacruz, Rappler (March 1, 2022): On debate stage, Robredo and Lacson emerge as foreign policy-ready

Nepal Local Elections: May 13, 2022, followed by General Elections

Several sets of elections could take place in Nepal within the next year. Local elections have been set for May 13.

Nepal’s politics remain turbulent following the 1996-2006 civil war waged by Maoists. 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

Anil Giri, Kathmandu Post (March 2, 2022): Electoral alliance among ruling parties still up in the air: Some fear UML might try to exploit its position on the MCC pact during elections.

Namit Wagley, Asia Foundation (March 2, 2022): Nepal’s Federalism Milestone: Five Opportunities and a Second Round of Elections

Shristi Karki, Nepali Times (February 27, 2022): MCC gets green light in Nepal: Five years after it was signed, Nepal Parliament has finally approved the controversial American grant

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

Australia’s federal parliamentary elections are due May 21, 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

Prashant Mehra, Nikkei Asia (March 2, 2022): Australia GDP up 3.4% in Q4 as election looms for Morrison

Casey Briggs, ABC News Australia (February 28, 2022): The federal election campaign hasn’t officially started but parties are already spending big on online advertising

Josh Butler, The Guardian (February 25, 2022): Greens target Queensland as new battleground in balance of power bid

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.

Radio Free Asia (March 3, 2022): Cambodia opposition chief Kem Sokha seen to support succession for Hun Sen’s son: An analyst says the comments are part of a bid by the former CNRP leader to return to politics.

David Hutt, DW (February 25, 2022): Cambodia determined to implement China-style ‘Great Firewall’ despite glitches

Bangladesh Parliamentary Elections: December 2023 (due)

Bangladesh is due to hold general elections in December 2023. The Awami League (AL) has been in power since 2009 and has been accused of becoming increasingly authoritarian. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has boycotted recent elections, undercutting their democratic legitimacy.

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

Shafi Md Mostofa, The Diplomat (March 3, 2022): New Election Commission Takes Charge in Bangladesh: The current deadlock over participation in elections cannot be defused if the Election Commission doesn’t evoke confidence among opposition parties.

Editorial Board, Daily Star (February 27, 2022): Restoring public trust in EC is the main challenge: The new five-member commission has its work cut out for it

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Reverberates Around the World

Radio Free Asia (March 4, 2022): Ukraine conflict highlights gaps in media freedoms, allegiances across Asia

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2022 and 2023

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

South Korea Presidential Election: March 9, 2022

Malaysia, Early State Elections in Johor: March 12, 2022

Timor-Leste Presidential Election: March 19, 2022

Australia, South Australia State Election: March 19, 2022

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

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

Nepal Local Elections: May 13, 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)

Japan, Gubernatorial Election in Okinawa: September 2022 (due)

New Zealand Local Elections: October 2022 (due)

Fiji Parliamentary Elections: November 2022 (due)

Taiwan Local Elections: November 26, 2022

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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