Asia This Week: May 27, 2022

May 27, 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.

A floating market near Bangkok, Thailand. Photo credit: Pixabay/Terimakaski0 (public domain)

Upcoming Asia/Pacific 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.

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

Sokummono Khan, Voice of America (May 26, 2022): Amid Repression, Revived Opposition Party Hopes for Gains in Cambodia’s Local Elections

Radio Free Asia (May 26, 2022): Attackers in Cambodia topple motorbike, injure local election opposition candidate: The Candlelight Party says authorities harass their candidates and supporters at the behest of the ruling party

DW (May 25, 2022 – video): Does Cambodia have a viable opposition?

David Hutt, Asia Times (May 24, 2022): Flicker of hope for Cambodia’s rubbed out opposition: Rekindled Candlelight Party to contest upcoming commune polls but if it burns too bright could be extinguished before next year’s general elections

NHK World (May 21, 2022): Campaigning for Cambodia’s commune council elections begins

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 this summer. The start date was delayed due to the death of the deputy prime minister.

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.

Radio New Zealand (May 27, 2022): PNG election candidates drop by 1,000

AP (May 25, 2022): China wants 10 small Pacific nations to sign on to ‘game-changing’ security agreement

Okole Midelit, Fiji Times (May 16, 2022): Too little, too late – Securing PNG’s 2022 national election

Radio New Zealand (May 16, 2022): PNG elections pose significant security risk warns academic

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.

Liz Mathew, Indian Express (May 26, 2022): Eyeing 2024, BJP ministers to visit seats lost in 2019

Suchitra Mohanty and Fayaz Bukhari, Reuters (May 25, 2022): Indian court orders life in jail for top Kashmiri separatist

Zoe Jordan and Sonali Deliwala, Council on Foreign Relations (May 24, 2022): Why Washington Should Care About India’s Support for the AIIB

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.

The Irrawaddy (May 27, 2022): Ousted NLD Regional Chief Minister Given New Jail Term by Myanmar Regime

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

Uditha Jayasinghe, Reuters (May 25, 2022): Sri Lanka’s prime minister takes on crucial finance ministry portfolio

Anusha Ondaatjie and Sudhi Ranjan Sen, Bloomberg (May 25, 2022): Sri Lanka’s Premier Wants IMF Program in Place By Mid-June

Gerry Shih and Hafeel Farisz, Washington Post (May 22, 2022): Inside the collapse of the Rajapaksa dynasty in Sri Lanka: How two powerful brothers fell out and took their country down with them

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

Fikry A. Rahman, The Diplomat (May 26, 2022): Malaysia’s Domestic Political Turbulence Threatens to Derail its Foreign Policy

Past Asia/Pacific Elections

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. Elections are due in early 2023, but various stakeholders have been calling for early elections amid dissatisfaction with the military government, which came to power in a 2014 coup.

Most recently: Bangkok holds its first gubernatorial election in nine years on May 22.

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

Thai PBS World (May 27, 2022): Bangkok poll triggers national wave of demand for local democracy

Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat (May 23, 2022): Reformist Independent Scores Decisive Win in Bangkok Governor Election

Grant Peck, AP (May 22, 2022): Bangkok votes for governor in 1st election since 2014 coup

Australia Parliamentary Elections: May 21, 2022

Australia held federal parliamentary elections on May 21, 2022. Following the elections, Labor, under the leadership of Anthony Albanese, came back into power after nine years in opposition, defeating Scott Morrison’s center-right Liberal Party

Much of the debate focused on China’s growing presence in the Pacific, including a potential base in the Solomon Islands, which are very close to Australia. More

Jessica Riga, ABC News Australia (May 27, 2022): Federal election: Vote count continues as Labor seeks one more seat to form majority government

Michael E. Miller, Washington Post (May 26, 2022): China pushes Pacific deal, as Australia scrambles to repair regional ties

Richard McGregor, Lowy Institute (May 26, 2022): Duelling diplomacy in the Pacific should dispel the notion of a China-Australia reset

Swati Pandey, Bloomberg (May 24, 2022): Australia’s Next Parliament Will Be Its Most Diverse Ever

Phil Mercer, Voice of America (May 23, 2022): New Australian Prime Minister Sworn In After Election Win

James Curran, Council on Foreign Relations (May 23, 2022): A Political Earthquake From Australia’s Elections: How will Australia’s election result affect the region, including U.S.-China competition?

Sky News (May 22, 2022): Australia elections: New PM Anthony Albanese pledges climate policy change after Scott Morrison concedes defeat

AP (May 21, 2022): Australia’s prime minister concedes despite millions of votes left to be counted

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.

Ronald Castillo, The Diplomat (May 27, 2022): In the Philippines, Civil Society Grows Amid Democratic Backsliding: The vibrant and volunteer election campaign of Vice President Leni Robredo offered some glimmers of hope for the country’s democracy

James Loxton, Washington Post (May 26, 2022): The Philippines elected a dictator’s son. Why are dynasties popular?

DW (May 26, 2022): Philippines: Marcos Jr. to stand by South China Sea ruling

Neil Jerome Morales, Reuters (May 23, 2022): Philippines’ Marcos says he discussed defence deal with U.S. envoy

David Engel, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (May 20, 2022): How far will Bongbong Marcos tilt the Philippines towards China?

Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat (May 20, 2022): Philippine Election Marred by Violence, Vote-Buying: Monitoring Mission

Andreo Calonzo, Bloomberg (May 18, 2022): Marcos Gains Legislative Power as Allies Join Philippine Senate

Cliff Venzon, Nikkei Asia (May 18, 2022): Marcos says Philippine-China ties ‘set to shift to higher gear’

Barbaby Lo, CBS News (May 13, 2022): How will Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. taking power in the Philippines change U.S. relations?

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

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

Suzanne Pepper, Hong Kong Free Press (May 28, 2022): White Papers, fact sheets and colour revolutions: Beijing’s new narrative to justify Hong Kong’s national security regime

Chris Patten, The Telegraph (May 28, 2022): The explosive private diaries of Hong Kong’s last governor: Chris Patten recalls the backstabbing and knife-edge negotiations with China after taking the most high-stakes job in international politics

Suzanne Sataline, Wired (May 26, 2022): ‘How Are They Weapons? That’s Only a Flashlight!’: During the protests in Hong Kong, young people carried laser pointers, umbrellas, and plastic ties—objects that sometimes led to their arrest, and years of legal limbo

Channel News Asia (May 24, 2022): Elderly Hong Kong cardinal Joseph Zen in court over protest defence fund

European Commission (May 20, 2022): Hong Kong: EU report sees a continued deterioration of fundamental freedoms

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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