One billion set to vote in Asia


  • AseanPlus News
  • Saturday, 23 Mar 2019

BANGKOK: Rights over land and forests, a push for LGBT+ equality and getting more women on the ballot are some top election issues in Thailand, India and Indonesia as more than one billion people prepare to go to the polls.

The candidates’ platforms reflect a growing concern in those countries over widening economic inequality and the marginalisation of minority communities, analysts say.

In Thailand, which will hold a general election on March 24 – its first since the military seized control in 2014 – candidates for prime minister include a transgender woman, a former student activist and a human rights campaigner.Fifty-two million Thais are eligible to vote, of whom 14% will do so for the first time.The contest broadly pits the party of junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha against populist parties loyal to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. But there are also newly formed parties in the race, some of them campaigning for greater rights for farmers and minorities.Pauline Ngarmpring of the Maha­chon Party is Thailand’s first transgender candidate for prime minister, and she has made rights for LGBT+ people and sex workers among her priorities.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a billionaire who is a favourite with young voters, has spoken about economic inequality in Thailand.And at the Commoners’ Party, founder Kittichai Ngamchaipisit has campaigned against land acquisitions for industry, and the forest reclamation policy which has led to the eviction of indigenous people.

“Our party has its roots in the poor and marginalised communities who have been affected by mining and large dams,” said Kriangsak Teerakowitkajorn, a member of the party’s policy working group.

When about 190 million Indon­esians go to the polls on April 17, they will be voting in a rerun of the 2014 race, when current president Joko Widodo went up against retired general Prabowo Subianto.

One issue getting more attention this time is the role of women in politics, said Diego Fossati of the department of Asian and international studies at City University of Hong Kong.Indonesian women held a fifth of the seats in the national parliament last year compared to 12% in 1990, according to World Bank data.

While that figure is in line with the 20% average for Asia, it is lower than the 24% global average and well below Indonesia’s own minimum quota of 30% for female political candidates, introduced in 2003.

In India, where the general election will be held in seven stages starting April 11, about 900 million citizens are eligible to vote.

High on the agenda is forest rights, after the Supreme Court last month stayed an earlier ruling ordering the forced evictions of nearly two million indigenous people whose land claims were rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA).The leader of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, has made land and forest rights a focus of his campaign. Analysts say that may have helped Congress win recent elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

In the same way, the FRA could be a deciding factor in nearly a quarter of the 543 parliamentary constituencies in the upcoming national election, according to the non-profit network Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advo­cacy.Many indigenous communities are clear about their main demand, said Ramesh Sharma of the land rights group Ekta Parishad.

“They say: ‘No land, no vote. Give land, get vote’.” — Reuters

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