Asia This Week: May 13, 2022

May 13, 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.

Night in Manila, Philippines. The notorious Marcos family has returned to power following elections on May 9. Photo credit: Wikimedia/jopetsy (CC BY 2.0)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

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

Hari Bansh Jha, Observer Research Foundation (May 10, 2022): Local elections to decide the future of Nepal

IFES (May 5, 2022): Election FAQs: Nepal 2022 Local Election

Australia Parliamentary Elections: May 21, 2022

Australia is holding federal parliamentary elections on May 21, 2022. 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.

This year, Labor, under the leadership of Anthony Albanese, hopes to come back into power after nine years in opposition. More

Shahar Hamieri, Unherd (May 13, 2022): Will China save Australian Labor? The superpower’s Pacific expansion is spooking voters

Renju Jose, Reuters (May 10, 2022): Early voting begins in Australia election with opposition ahead in polls

Sarah Martin, The Guardian (May 5, 2022): Path to victory: the seats that will decide the 2022 federal election: Labor needs to gain seven seats to form majority government while the Coalition must offset any losses with gains elsewhere

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.

Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat (May 10, 2022): Cambodia Polls Unlikely to be Credible and Transparent, Says Watchdog

UCA News (May 10, 2022): EU condemns political persecution in Cambodia

Radio Free Asia (May 9, 2022): Detained former opposition chief meets with Cambodia’s Hun Sen: The meeting comes as opposition candidates face harassment from ruling Cambodian People’s Party officials

Sopheng Cheang, AP (May 3, 2022): Cambodian dissident dresses up as ‘Lady Justice’ for trial

Thailand, Local Elections in Bangkok and Pattaya: May 22, 2022, and General Elections: By March 23, 2023 (snap 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. 

Next up: Bangkok holds its first gubernatorial election in nine years on May 22 (Pattaya also holds local elections that day). In addition, snap general elections are possible. 

Thailand is a long-standing United States ally. During the Cold War, each saw the other as an important bulwark against Chinese and Vietnamese aggression. However, the two countries are growing father apart as each country’s view of existential threats evolves. More

Termsak Chalermpalanupap, Fulcrum Singapore (May 11, 2022): More Political Implications Than Meet the Eye in Upcoming Election for Bangkok Governor

Thai PBS World (May 10, 2022): Battle for Bangkok raging online and offline as governor election looms

Thai PBS World (May 10, 2022): 5 decades of governor elections that have shaped modern Bangkok

Tara Abkasakun, The Thaiger (May 8, 2022): Upcoming campaign to urge Bangkok to vote in governor election

Bangkok Post (May 8, 2022): Most Thais outside Bangkok want direct elections for governor: poll

Papua New Guinea Parliamentary and Local Elections: Beginning July 16, 2022 (delayed following death of deputy prime minister)

Papua New Guinea holds parliamentary and local elections June 25 – July 8, 2022.

Papua New Guinea’s politics are chaotic, and no single party has ever commanded a majority in parliament. Coalitions shift frequently. Current prime minister James Marape came into power in May 2018 when former prime minister Peter O’Neill lost a no-confidence vote after being in power for eight years.

Papua New Guinea’s parliament currently has no women – it is one of only three all-male parliaments in the world. However, efforts are being made to elect women this year.

Nick Fogarty and Belinda Kora, ABC News Australia (May 11, 2022): Papua New Guinea’s Deputy Prime Minister Sam Basil dies, delaying general election

Melvin Levongo, The Guardian (May 11, 2022): Car crash kills Papua New Guinea’s deputy PM, Sam Basil

India, Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Elections: 2022 (expected)

India’s state and territorial elections are serving as a key test for the national parties – and PM Narendra Modi – as well as the opposition 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.

In a surprise geopolitical development, on August 5, 2019, the Modi government made a unilateral decision to strip the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir of its autonomy. The region, which is majority Muslim, is claimed by both India and Pakistan and has sparked three wars. For 70 years, the Indian-controlled part – established as the state of Jammu and Kashmir – enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, but Modi announced that the state would be downgraded into two union territories, effectively centralizing control. The area was on virtual lockdown for a long time, and many were detained, including prominent political leaders. However, Modi began outreach to Kashmir stakeholders, and elections are expected in 2022 – the first since 2014.

Samaan Lateef, DW (May 12, 2022): India redraws Kashmir political constituencies ahead of elections

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.

Sudha Ramachandran, The Diplomat (May 11, 2022): Decree Banning ‘India Out’ Campaign in Maldives Fuels Protests

Sri Lanka Presidential Election: September 2024 and Parliamentary Elections: August 2025 (snap elections possible)

Sri Lanka is due to hold elections in 2024 and 2025, but snap elections could happen due to the current political and economic crisis. The current president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, won the 2019 election, which took place in a tense political climate following the 2019 Easter bombings.

Former president Maithripala Sirisena, who had surprisingly defeated Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential elections, spearheaded a reform program to reverse many of the autocratic powers Mahinda Rajapaksa had built up. However, since Gotabaya took office, he has systematically dismantled those reforms. As a result, Sri Lanka’s democracy sits on the precipice.

The current political crisis began with a series of street protests over daily power cuts and food shortages. The opposition has called for fresh elections. In an attempt to stabilize the country, Rajapaksa installed his former rival Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and called for a unity government. Wickremesinghe has served as prime minister several times before, and is broadly liberal and pro-democracy. He has called for greater ties with India, in contrast to Rajapaksa’s moves toward China.

Sri Lanka’s government, dominated by the Sinhalese ethnic group, fought a decades-long civil war with the rebel Tamil Tigers. The war ended in 2009, but tensions reignited in 2019 following the 2019 Easter bombings. Sri Lanka is located strategically in the Indian Ocean. Chinese involvement has raised concerns – Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port has become a textbook example of Chinese debt-trap diplomacy

AFP (May 13, 2022): Sri Lanka’s new PM struggles to form unity government

Sowmiya Ashok The Print India (May 12, 2022): Sri Lanka turns to 5-time PM Ranil Wickremesinghe to steady island, secure IMF bailout

R.K. Radhakrishnan, The Hindu (May 12, 2022): Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the sixth time

Niluksi Koswanage, Bloomberg (May 10, 2022): How Sri Lanka Landed in a Political and Economic Crisis and What It Means

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

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

Philippines held general elections on May 9, 2022. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the notorious late former dictator, won in a landslide, raising concerns about the future of democracy in the country. Although liberal forces, led by Vice President Leni Robredo, put in a valiant effort, Marcos prevailed, returning his family to power.

This follows the 2016 victory of populist firebrand Rodrigo Duterte, who subsequently governed with an iron fist. Though Philippines presidents cannot run for a second term, critics feared that he would seek to consolidate illiberalism. His daughter, Sara Duterte, won the 2022 vice presidential election.

The Marcos family ruled the country for 21 years (including 14 years under martial law), and fell in the 1986 People Power Revolution. Nonetheless, since then, political dynasties have remained a potent force in Philippines politics.

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.

Daniel Moss, Bloomberg (May 14, 2022): The Powerful Machine That Brought Bongbong to Victory: He rode cultural and geographic divides — and social media — to a landslide win. In retrospect, his opponent barely stood a chance

Mely Caballero-Anthony, Brookings Institution (May 13, 2022): A Marcos returns to power in the Philippines

AFP (May 12, 2022): US, China congratulate Marcos for Philippine election win

Vittoria Elliott, Wired (May 10, 2022): How YouTube Can Rewrite the Past and Shape an Election: Philippine researcher Fatima Gaw says the platform has become a hub for pro-Marcos historical revisionism

Joshua Kurlantsick, Council on Foreign Relations (May 9, 2022): Ferdinand Marcos Jr Appears to Have Won Convincingly: Here’s What That Means for the Philippines

Simone McCarthy, CNN (May 9, 2022): Why the Philippines election could be a win for China

Sheila Coronel, Financial Times (May 3, 2022): The ghost of Marcos looms over a pivotal Philippine election: A ‘golden age’ narrative is taking hold among a generation with no memory of the deposed dictator

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

On May 8, 2022 (delayed from March), an Election Committee consisting of 1463 people – primarily pro-Beijing politicians and business figures – chose Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. Incumbent Carrie Lam did not run for a second term, and former security chief John Lee was the only candidate to replace her. Overall, the process has been characterized by a lack of transparency and a heavy hand from Beijing. 

This follows the flawed December 2021 legislative elections, which took place after more than a year’s delay. Only candidates deemed “patriotic” were permitted, and as a result, the legislature is now overwhelmingly pro-Beijing.

These last few elections represent the final stage of Beijing’s plan to gut Hong Kong’s democracy, despite promises of “one country, two systems” for 50 years following the 1997 handover from British rule to Beijing rule. The draconian new national security law has led to the imprisonment of pro-democracy candidates, activists, and journalists. Hong Kong has a history of vigorous debate and democratic politics, but discourse has chilled. As a result, over 89,000 residents left Hong Kong in the year after the national security law took effect. More

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal (May 9, 2022): China’s New Boss in Hong Kong: John Lee becomes Xi Jinping’s enforcer with 99% of the vote

AP (May 9, 2022): Lam says Hong Kong now has China patriots firmly in charge

Ellen Ioanes, Vox (May 8, 2022): Hong Kong ushers in a new era of restriction under John Lee

Ken Moritsugu, AP (May 6, 2022): China installing former security chief as Hong Kong leader

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2022 and 2023

Nepal Local Elections: May 13, 2022

Australia Parliamentary Elections: By May 21, 2022 (due – could take place earlier)

Thailand, Local Elections in Bangkok and Pattaya: May 22, 2022

South Korea Local Elections: June 1, 2022

Papua New Guinea Parliamentary and Local Elections: Beginning July 16, 2022 (delayed following death of deputy prime minister)

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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