The U.S. presidential election is far from the only important political contest happening next year. Asian voters will take part in four elections—Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, and India—in the first five months of next year. Together, these four economies contribute about $7 trillion in GDP, behind just the U.S. and China.
The first election will happen mere weeks into 2024, when voters in Taiwan go to the polls on Jan. 13 to choose the island’s next president. Three different candidates are running to replace current president Tsai Ing-Wen of the Democratic People’s Party, who cannot run again due to term limits.
Taiwan is one of the world’s most critical geopolitical flashpoints. The island is a self-governing democracy, yet the People’s Republic of China regards the island as a breakaway province, and has threatened to use force if Taiwan ever declares formal independence. Taiwan is also home to some of the world’s most important companies, like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the leading manufacturer of advanced chips.
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Beijing dislikes the DPP, which has taken a more anti-China stance and counts deepening democracy and safeguarding the island’s sovereignty as its party values. William Lai, the island’s vice president, is representing the DPP. By comparison, the other two candidates in the running, the Kuomintang’s Hou Yu-ih and the Taiwan People’s Party Ko Wen-je, support a thaw in cross-Strait relations. Current polling gives the DPP a slim lead ahead of the other two candidates.
Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s third-largest democracy will choose its next president on Feb. 14. The country has enjoyed steady economic growth under popular—and populist—president Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi” to Indonesians.
Jokowi is ineligible to run again due to term limits, and the three candidates to replace him—current defense minister Prabowo Subianto, Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, and Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan—largely support continuing Jokowi’s economic policies.
The Southeast Asian country has benefited from rising global demand for commodities, particularly for metals like nickel, a key component of electric vehicles and batteries. The Jokowi administration has tried to focus on “downstreaming,” or encouraging investment in value-added industries like smelting and refining. For example, Indonesia banned nickel ore exports in January 2020, encouraging foreign investment from China and elsewhere to flow into domestic smelters.
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Yet another of Jokowi’s hoped-for legacies may prove to be a bit more challenging to carry out. The Indonesian president has set a bold plan to relocate the country’s capital from Jakarta, on the island of Java, to “Nusantara,” a wholly new city on the island of Borneo that is still under construction.
Indonesian officials cite overpopulation, traffic, and the threat of climate-change-induced flooding as reasons for the move. But moving the capital comes with a hefty projected price tag of around $30 billion. The Jokowi administration hopes foreign investment can cover 80% of the cost, yet foreign investors aren’t biting. Jokowi has set a completion data of 2045 for Nusantara, but at least one of his potential successors may not be so keen on the move: Anies has already criticized the project.
South Korea, April
South Koreans will vote for the country’s legislature in April, which will be another measurement of public sentiment of president Yoon Suk Yeol’s tenure in office. Yoon, of the conservative People’s Power Party, won the presidency in 2022 in one of the closest election in Korea’s history.
Yoon has pursued a more pro-business agenda compared to his predecessor, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea. The Republic of Korea’s president has sought to improve ties with Japan on both trade and security. In addition, Yoon has worked to establish a three-way security hotline with the neighboring country and the U.S.
Yoon also granted a pardon to Samsung executive chairman Lee Jae-yong for crimes including bribery. The justice ministry argued the pardon was needed to help South Korea overcome a “national economic crisis.”
Yoon is also promoting the country’s arms industry, especially as the U.S. and the European Union rapidly run through their stocks of ammunition and military hardware due to military aid to Ukraine. The Asian country surged to become the world’s ninth-largest arms exporter in 2022.
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The National Assembly, the country’s legislature, is dominated by Yoon’s main opposition, the Democratic Party of Korea. If the conservatives win in April’s election, Yoon will be able to pass legislation and make key appointments without relying on cooperation from other parties.
South Koreans may already be weary about the state of politics in the country. Eunjung Lim, an associate professor of international studies at Kongju National University explained that people are quite tired with “vetocracy.”
“Our president uses his veto power and so does the opposition party, and Korean people are very much frustrated with this overvetoed state of politics,” Lim said. Yet she think it’s unlikely either party will be able to win a landslide victory.
India, the world’s largest democracy, is expected to hold its general election over several weeks in April and May. The Bharatiya Janata Party and prime minister Narendra Modi are the frontrunners, according to recent polling.
Modi has enjoyed huge popularity since taking office in May 2014, and his tenure has coincided with a period of growth for the Indian economy. Modi has vowed to make India the world’s third largest economy if he wins a third term. Under the Modi administration, India has also seen a FDI inflow of over $500 billion. The country has been trying to position itself as an alternative to China as companies seek to diversify their operations.
The country is seeking to bolster its manufacturing sector, particularly as an alternative to China as companies seek to diversify their supply chains. India has pledged billions toward building a domestic chip sector, and companies like Apple’s manufacturer Foxconn are investing in local manufacturing of consumer electronics for export.
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Yet the country still struggles with a skills gap and high unemployment, despite its young and growing population.
The Modi administration initially “overestimated how fast they could move on reforms,” says Priyanka Kishore, founder of consultancy Asia Decoded, leading to a focus on “low-hanging fruits like attracting FDI inflow and infrastructure spending.” These policies would likely continue under a possible third Modi term, she says.
Modi has tried to boost India’s profile by hosting high-profile summits like the G20 summit earlier this year. India has also endorsed security partnerships like the Quad with the U.S., Australia, and Japan to balance against China. Yet in other areas of geopolitics, India has refused to join the West: The country continues to trade with Russia, despite the latter’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
Domestically, Modi and the BJP have endorsed a Hindu nationalist agenda, which has proved controversial in multilingual India, which also boasts a sizable Muslim minority. Activists have also accused Modi’s government of trampling on civil liberties and civil society.
India’s prime minister rejects these accusations. In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Modi cited the Parsis, a small religious minority of approximately 60,000 people, as proof that “Indian society itself has no feeling of discrimination towards any religious minority.”
“There is a whole ecosystem that is using the freedom available in our country to hurl these allegations at us every day,” he told the Financial Times. “They have the right to do so. But others have an equal right to respond with facts.”