Leadership Transitions Across the Asia-Pacific

by Tiffany Ma
December 19, 2013

This is one of eleven essays in the “2014 Asia-Pacific Watch List.”

By Tiffany Ma

December 19, 2013

Upcoming elections in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India, and Indonesia have the potential to bring significant political change across Asia in 2014. The first election to watch is set for January 5 in Bangladesh, where divisive politics and unrest have marked the lead-up to the election. The incumbent Awami League (AL) has refused to create a neutral caretaker government after the end of its term in October, and the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has threatened to boycott the upcoming polls. Bangladesh’s success in pulling off a free and credible election would have significant implications for the endurance of the country’s democracy, its relationship with the United States and India, and its long-term political viability. The post-election partisan dynamics will also influence Bangladesh’s national identity as secular Bengalis and Islamists have become increasingly polarized, aligning with the AL and BNP, respectively.

Afghanistan’s national elections on April 5 will usher in a post–Hamid Karzai political era. With over three million registered voters and eleven candidates, the electoral process will be critical for the country’s democracy and future security. Adbullah Abdullah, former foreign minister and head of the National Coalition of Afghanistan, appears to be a top contender; however, the wide field of candidates also includes Ashraf Ghani, former finance minister and economist; Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, anti-Taliban stalwart and alleged “mentor” to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; and Abdul Qayum Karzai, the president’s brother. A successful election could reinvigorate foreign financial support. Furthermore, a smooth transition and political resolve for reforms would help sustain hard-earned gains in development, governance, and security. However, President Karzai’s reticence on signing the bilateral security agreement with the United States leaves the country’s security outlook uncertain going into the election year.

In India, strong anti-incumbent sentiment, rising food prices, and allegations of corruption may give the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an edge against the Indian National Congress party in the late spring general elections. The BJP’s campaign, led by prime minister candidate Narendra Modi, has gained momentum by winning four out of the five state elections in November and December. Modi’s supporters hope that his economic track record as chief minister of Gujarat State will boost India’s flagging economy. As neither party is assured of a clear majority, the general elections will likely result in a coalition government. Though Washington has denied Modi a visa since 2005 due to his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, close relations with the United States would likely continue to be important for either a BJP- or Congress-led government.

Indonesia’s presidential elections will be held on July 9, and the race to lead the world’s third-largest democracy has intensified. Presidential aspirants Prabowo Subianto and Aburizal Bakrie are unsurprising candidates. Voters, however, appear to be rallying around the charismatic Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, who represents a break from Suharto-era politics. The catch is that Jokowi needs the endorsement of Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle to be a viable candidate, but this is only posible if she does not run again herself. So far, both Jokowi and Megawati have kept silent about their aspirations.

Tiffany Ma is a Project Manager at NBR, where she manages initiatives and supports project development in the China Security Studies, China’s Rising Leaders, and John M. Shalikashvili Chair in National Security Studies programs.