Asia This Week: May 20, 2022

May 20, 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 iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Dietmar Rabich (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific Elections

Australia Parliamentary Elections: May 21, 2022

Australia is holding federal parliamentary elections on May 21, 2022. Meanwhile, several states hold elections in 2022. 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. Much of the debate has focused on China’s growing presence in the Pacific, including a potential base in the Solomon Islands, which are very close to Australia. More

Phil Mercer, BBC (May 20, 2022): Australia election 2022: Cost of living worries voters

Rurika Imahashi, Nikkei Asia (May 16, 2022): Economy key to Australian election: 5 things to know

Graeme Dobell, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (May 16, 2022): The China consensus in Australia’s election

Hilary Whiteman, CNN (May 15, 2022): Xi Jinping looms large over Australia’s election

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.

However, in early 2022, the opposition has been gaining ground, reorganizing itself into the Candlelight Party and hoping to make gains in upcoming elections.

Radio Free Asia (May 20, 2022): Cambodia’s commune campaign to test country’s electoral integrity: The June 5 races won’t shift the power balance but may affirm support for a newish opposition party

Sun Narin, Voice of America (May 16, 2022): How Cambodia’s 2017 Commune Elections Were a Turning Point for Democracy

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

Jerry Harmer, AP (May 19, 2022): Bangkok governor election seen as national harbinger

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.

Meanwhile, as with many Pacific nations, China has been ramping up its presence in Fiji.

AP (May 25, 2022): EXPLAINER: What’s at stake for China on South Pacific visit?

Anish Chand, Fiji Times (May 20, 2022): ‘Dead corpse’ atmosphere

Fijian Elections Office (May 20, 2022): Elections Office Releases Latest Voter Registration Numbers

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.

PTI (May 19, 2022): People of J-K want early elections to install government of their choice: Omar

Tariq Bhat, The Week India (May 19, 2022): Who is Yasin Malik, the separatist leader convicted in terror funding case?

Al Jazeera (May 16, 2022): India redrawing Kashmir assembly seats to ‘disempower Muslims’?

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.

Burma is of geopolitical importance because of its location on the Indian Ocean. China has sought to cultivate ties in order to get more access to the Indian Ocean, and simultaneously, western governments have at times pursued warmer relations with the regime.

Radio Free Asia (May 17, 2022): New civilian death toll since coup ‘unprecedented’ in Myanmar’s history: A research institute says more than 5,600 civilians have been killed since February 2021

The Irrawaddy (May 13, 2022): Myanmar Military’s Proxy Party Prepares for Junta’s Planned Election

Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle (May 13, 2022): Myanmar’s military junta levels corruption charges against official with Great Barrington ties

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.

N. Satihya Moorthy, Observer Research Foundation (May 18, 2022): Maldives: Should the MDP be worried over poor turn-out in party poll?

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

Bharatha Mallawarachi, Krutika Pathi and Joe McDonald, The Diplomat (May 20, 2022): China Becomes Wild Card in Sri Lanka’s Debt Crisis: Beijing has promised to “play a positive role” in talks with the IMF and offered Colombo more loans but is reluctant to cut its debt

Niluksi Koswanage, Bloomberg (May 19, 2022): How Sri Lanka Landed in a Political and Economic Crisis and What It Means

David Rising and Krutika Pathi, AP (May 13, 2022): Sri Lankan power family falls from grace as economy tanks

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

Malaysia 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.

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.

Johor state, which borders Singapore, held snap elections on March 12, 2022 after the state’s chief minister dissolved the state legislature (elections were originally due in 2023). UNMO won, building on momentum from victories in other recent state elections. More

Francis E Hutchinson, East Asia Forum (May 15, 2022): Malaysian politics now a three-legged race

Past 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 took place on May 13, 2022.

Nepal’s politics remain turbulent following the 1996-2006 civil war waged by Maoists. The main political factions are the various Maoist parties, which tend to lean toward China geopolitically, and the social democratic Nepali Congress, which tends to lean toward India. Congress currently heads the national government.

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.

In the local elections, the ruling Congress alliance won the most seats. However, rapper (and structural engineer) Balendra “Balen” Shah won the mayoral race in Kathmandu, the first-ever independent candidate to do so.

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

ANI (May 27, 2022): Nepali rapper Balendra Shah becomes new Mayor of Kathmandu

Shristi Karki, Nepali Times (May 26, 2022): Nepal’s local polls a rehearsal for federal elections: Coalition partners are encouraged enough by the results to keep their alliance intact

PTI (May 25, 2022): Nepali Congress sweeps local polls

Nishant Pokharel, OnlineKhabar (May 19, 2022): Understanding Balen Shah’s likely victory as Kathmandu mayor in 5 points

Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu Post (May 16, 2022): Local polls: Nepali Congress looks set to gain, and also to be saviour of Maoists

Kathmandu Post (May 13, 2022): Rights body says elections were not peaceful as expected: Voting stalled in different parts of the country and clashes reported in some areas

Binod Ghimire, The Wire (May 13, 2022): Test of Democracy as Nepal Votes Today to Elect Over 35,000 Local Representatives

Timor-Leste Presidential Runoff: April 19, 2022

Timor-Leste (also called East Timor) held a presidential election on March 19. Current president Francisco Guterres, called Lú-Olo, first elected in 2017, trailed former president José Ramos-Horta. Ramos-Horta won the April 19 runoff.

Since winning independence from Indonesia in a referendum 20 years ago, Timor-Leste has become a democracy rated Free by Freedom House, although many challenges remain.

Koya Jibiki, Nikkei Asia (May 21, 2022): East Timor’s new president still driving China’s Belt and Road: Ramos-Horta supports initiative ‘completely’ and urges U.S. to cooperate

Reuters (May 19, 2022): East Timor’s new president pledges stronger ties with China

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.

Madeline Keck, Global Citizen (May 16, 2022): Most Women Ever Elected to Samoan Parliament After Supreme Court Ruling

Asia/Pacific Elections Coming Up in 2022 and 2023

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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