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ASEAN in Flux: Elections Ahead in 2014

06 Jan ASEAN in Flux: Elections Ahead in 2014

As the new year begins, several ASEAN countries are heading into highly contentious elections. What lies ahead for Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar?

Stalemates and Protests: Thailand

Thailand’s crisis will continue well into 2014. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s caretaker government is so far resisting calls to delay the February elections or scrap the vote entirely. But even if the elections proceed, this alone will not end the deadlock. The governing Pheu Thai Party would sweep to victory as the opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the vote. But this would leave opposition strongholds such as Thailand’s southern provinces effectively ungovernable by Pheu Thai.

Both sides of the political divide do agree that some form of appointed national-level reform council is necessary. But the stalemate will carry on unless both sides can agree who will be on that council, and whether it will supplement or replace an elected government. Meanwhile, Thailand’s military is still watching from the sidelines. Some Thai watchers say it is possible the military may stage a coup to restore order if violent clashes worsen. Already, four people have died in the past month and over 250 injured in clashes between demonstrators and the police.

Presidential Races: Indonesia and Myanmar

In Indonesia, all eyes are on the Presidential race scheduled for mid-July. Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI-P) is the clear frontrunner according to opinion polls. But he is not the official PDI-P candidate, and there is speculation he may still step aside for party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. PDI-P has been cagey on the matter; it is only expected to confirm its candidate after April’s legislative elections.

Indonesia is likely to see effective political paralysis until the elections are concluded, and the new government will need to act swiftly to implement much-needed reforms. The past few months have exposed vulnerabilities in Indonesia’s economy, such as the currency’s rapid depreciation.

Myanmar’s general elections are only due in 2015, but the next few months will be crucial. A key sticking point is the country’s constitution, which was adopted when Myanmar was still under military rule. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) has been pushing for changes, especially to the clause that would bar NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming President due to her sons holding foreign citizenship.

The NLD has pledged to contest the elections even if the constitution is not revised. But the possibility of Ms. Suu Kyi becoming President would drastically change the race. Notably, current President Thein Sein has expressed support for revising this aspect of the constitution. That said, Mr. Thein Sein is a known moderate and reformer. It is not clear whether the rest of Myanmar’s establishment is willing to welcome an NLD government and head of state.

Sources

The most difficult election in Thailand’s history? [The Nation, 2 Jan 2014]

‘Fragile Five’ 2014 Outlook: Following Currency Sell-Off, Watch For Election Uncertainty [International Business Times, 31 Dec 2013]

Full text of speech delivered by President U Thein Sein [Myanmar President’s Office, 2 Jan 2013]