With a slew of elections in Asia this spring, we thought it would be helpful to provide a quick overview of the main issues, parties and potential consequences.
Thailand’s election on 24 March, the first since the military seized power in May 2014, will decide whether the country returns to a legitimate civilian government that can then tackle declining economic growth and rising inequality.
The largest single bloc of seats is likely to be won, yet again, by Pheu Thai and its allies, the party of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is in exile but still popular (at least in the North and North-East). However, the military-bureaucratic elite that has brought down every one of his previous administrations, will make sure he remains out of power – even at the risk of popular protests.
Not least through constitutional changes that mean any new government will effectively be approved by the army -- whether it continues to be led by current Prime Minister (and coup leader) General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his party; or by their likely coalition partners, the Democrats, who are strong in Thailand’s south.
More important than who leads the next administration is whether it will tackle the country’s “lost decade” by overhauling the educational system, encouraging investment and new technologies and strengthening the welfare state.
scoutAsia verdict: While the new government will be recognised as legitimate by the people, it will fail to tackle Thailand’s structural issues and economic growth will remain a lacklustre 3-4%.
This is an easy one to call. Incumbent President Joko Widodo should comfortably be re-elected on 17 April. He leads is challenger Prabowo Subianto by 55% to 32% in recent opinion polls – having beaten him once before.
That’s a good thing, since Jokowi, as he is known, has been a decent leader of a vast and complicated country and has scored successes in building out public infrastructure and improving the health and education systems – his key priorities. He has not been quite as investor-friendly and good for business as hoped but it is hard to blame recent currency weakness on him alone.
He came to power with minority parliamentary support in 2014, but was soon able to build a majority multi-party coalition – which should hold together after April’s elections. Still, parliament’s tardiness combined with the president’s preference for quick action means he will continue to mostly use executive orders to carry out government programmes.
Meanwhile, by choosing an Islamic cleric as a running mate he is trying to blunt criticism that his administration is insufficiently Islamic.
scoutAsia verdict: Nobody’s perfect but under Jokowi Indonesia should remain stable economically, politically and in terms of security, with economic growth at a solid 5%+.
On May 13, the Philippines holds mid-term polls covering half the senate, all of the lower house and most municipal and local officials, though Rodrigo Duterte is not up for re-election. Still, the vote is widely regarded as a poll on the president’s often-radical policies.
He should fare well. His approval ratings remain high and his latest budget has increased spending on infrastructure and social projects. That suggests that his allies will retain their congressional majority.
scoutAsia verdict: More of the same. On the downside that means an unrelenting crackdown on government critics and democratic principles. More positively, the economy is powering ahead at over 6% a year and that should continue too.
The world’s largest democratic exercise gets underway next month, when more than 900m Indians are eligible to vote in a general election that will be conducted in seven phases between 11 April and 19 May, with results expected on 23 May.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing BJP are currently in control, with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha lower house of parliament. Modi is a formidable campaigner – see his tweets co-opting Bollywood celebrities and famous sports personalities to his cause – and is backed by a formidable party machinery. He is lavishing money on India’s poor farmers and recent tensions with Pakistan should play to his nationalist and strongman image.
However, his economic record is mixed, anti-incumbency feelings are rising and the downtrodden Congress opposition has been reviving since December – see my previous blog post. It is led by a newly energetic Rahul Gandhi, now joined by his popular sister Priyanka. Still, the most recent opinion polls put the BJP bloc 10 percentage points ahead of Congress & co.
scoutAsia verdict: The election is Modi’s to lose – and he won’t. The BJP will shed seats but, supported by its allies, retain a parliamentary majority. Modi will positively surprise by tackling structural reforms in his second term and this should push India’s economic growth back above 7%.