The View From Asia

Election season in Asia

Asia News Network commentators give their take on election season highlights. Here are excerpts.

Jokowi, Jakarta and Anies

Adi Abidin and Piebo Dimas Perdana
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

When the election results are tallied, one counting will be critical, aside from the national tally for the presidential race.

The outcome in Jakarta will show whether President Joko Widodo can take back the city from Mr Anies Baswedan, the current governor. This is a crucial race.

Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, first won the city's governorship in 2012 and had major support in the capital in the 2014 presidential election. He left the city in the care of his vice-governor and close ally, Mr Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama.

In a contentious gubernatorial race in 2017, Mr Basuki lost to Mr Anies, marking the watershed moment for both Mr Joko's political fortunes and Indonesian politics in general.

The 2017 gubernatorial election was very much a continuation of the political rivalry between the Jokowi-Megawati alliance and Mr Prabowo Subianto and his coalition partners in the 2014 presidential election, which Mr Joko won.

 
 

In the gubernatorial race, Mr Anies was Mr Prabowo's surrogate.

With stronger roots in the northern and western suburbs, there is a path for Mr Joko to reclaim the city that he once led.

First, he needs to convince the solid Ahok voters - some 2.3 million people - to turn out next Wednesday. Then, those voters who bolted to support Mr Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono in 2014 - and later Mr Anies - need to be re-engaged and invited back into his coalition.

In addition, this grassroots effort should also aim to expand the supporter base by targeting new voters and Prabowo-Anies voters.

If Mr Joko fails to retake the city from Prabowo-Anies, it will show that their coalition has solidified. What would also be crucial is whether Ahok voters - the bulwark of Indonesia's tolerant and pluralistic politics - will remain. The ball is in Mr Joko's court, while Prabowo-Anies are playing defence.


Tightrope for Thanathorn

Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation, Thailand

Attempting to disqualify a fast-rising star from political office for a minor oversight, or through fault finding or even straightforward persecution, is outrageous.

The same star landing in legal trouble because of a falsified document is another matter entirely.

Which is why the evolution of the shares saga involving Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is crucial to his attempts to form a post-election government and to Thailand as a whole.

Mr Thanathorn's fate is finely balanced. On one side we have a high-profile victim being targeted because of an election landslide, unorthodox political ideology and a position to drive that ideology forward. On the other is a label that makes him "no different from the others", someone ready to do whatever it takes, even if it is illegal, to get what he wants.

The controversy is being magnified by media scrutiny.

Doubts have also grown about a document Mr Thanathorn has cited in his defence.

He was initially accused of registering for the election while still holding shares in a media company, an action prohibited by the Constitution. In response, he wielded the now-contentious document, which showed that he had transferred his shares to his mother weeks before the registration period.

Initially, the focus was on whether the "transfer" took effect on the day the document was signed by him, his mother, and witnesses - Jan 8 - or on the day the authorities were informed. But then more questions emerged.

Simply put, is the share transfer document genuine?

Those questions and more are still hanging in the air. These legal charges may hide a political motive, so it is imperative that they are treated separately from the shares controversy, for everyone's sake.

 

If Thai history teaches us anything, it is to tread carefully in such matters. The jury is still out on Mr Thanathorn.

The questions have been made more difficult with his party's stunning election success, but the polls triumph should not cloud anybody's judgment.


Can Modi's BJP retain power?

Ziaus Shams Chowdhury
The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The populist wave that swept India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in 2014 has waned considerably after five years.

A defining factor of the BJP's last victory had to do with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's unquestioned skill in constructing a winning coalition.

In this year's Lok Sabha (Lower House) election, it does not look likely that the ruling party can replicate its spectacular success of 2014.

A situation has developed in which the other political party with a nationwide presence, the Congress, has been buoyed by its recent performance: It wrested three heartland states from the BJP, namely, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

In the last general election, the Congress had a disastrous performance as it won only 44 seats in the 545-seat Lower House.

There is, however, a broad consensus among analysts that the Congress by itself lacks the potential to pose any real threat to the BJP. It is much weaker in terms of organisation. In terms of money, a big factor, the BJP is said to be way ahead of the Congress thanks to the support of business tycoons who are lining up behind Mr Modi.

Mr Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi have shown promise as leaders who could revive the Congress. However, realistically speaking, they are still in the formative stage of their political life, and hopefully their best years are still ahead.

They have never been in power and, from a pragmatic point of view, are no match for the battle-hardened Mr Modi, rising star Amit Shah and their ilk.

The 2019 General Election is widely seen as a verdict on Mr Modi's performance in office and how much of his promises he has been able to deliver on.

A large segment of the electorate thinks that the country is on the right track under his stewardship. They adore him. His party has shown a higher level of discipline compared with other parties. It has close grassroots ties with Hindu nationalist groups, which means more street power.

Despite these favourable aspects, the BJP's record in office has alienated many vital constituencies. The business people feel that Mr Modi has failed to translate his strong mandate into worthwhile free-market reforms.

 

The BJP has irked many by pursuing some ill-advised policies, such as the "demonetisation" of 80 per cent of India's currency in 2016.

Critically at issue in this year's Lok Sabha polls is whether the Hindutva (the hegemony of Hindus) slogan, hitherto pushed successfully by the BJP, will get a new lease of life, or the secular and progressive ethos which defined India's independence-era politics will reassert itself.


 • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news organisations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2019, with the headline 'Election season in Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe