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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 11, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
April 11, 2014

india-electonic-voting-booth A voter looks at an electronic voting machine before casting his vote inside a booth at a polling station in Bhangel village on the outskirts of New Delhi on April 10, 2014. Around 815 million people have registered to vote in the world's biggest election—a number exceeding the population of Europe and a world record—and results of the mammoth exercise, which concludes on May 12, are due on May 16 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy: Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Indian election underway. With over 814 million eligible voters, India’s election is the largest democratic undertaking in history and will take place over a period of five weeks in nine phases—three of which were completed this week. On Thursday, constituencies were at stake in eleven of India’s states and three federally administered territories. India’s Election Commission reported impressive voter turnout in most regions, including over 60 percent turnout in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. The ruling Congress Party is almost certain to lose due to widespread voter disenchantment over its stewardship of the economy, corruption, and governance during the party’s tenure in power. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—India’s main opposition party—is expected to win more than 200 of the 543 seats of Parliament, but the question remains as to which parties Narendra Modi, the BJP’s leader and frontrunner to become India’s next prime minister, will appeal to in order to form a coalition government. Final election results will be announced on May 16.

2. Indonesian opposition party leads in parliamentary elections. Indonesia held parliamentary and local elections on April 9, which was declared a public holiday to allow more than 190 million people to vote. Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy, and during these elections over 235,000 candidates vied for almost 20,000 posts. The opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was to win big—some analysts had predicted PDI-P taking 30 percent of the overall vote—but early results show them taking only 19 percent. Though still a rise from 14 percent in the last elections in 2009, the PDI-P needed at least 25 percent of the vote—or 20 percent of parliamentary seats—to nominate its own presidential candidate; now it will likely have to enter into a coalition with one or more parties. Some observers see this as a blow to the “Jokowi effect,” which describes the enthusiasm behind the popular Jakarta governor and PDI-P presidential candidate Joko Widodo. Also noteworthy was the relative strength of Islamic parties, which had been thought to be in decline.

3. Secretary Hagel wraps up trip to Asia. U.S. secretary of defense Chuck Hagel completed a ten-day trip to Asia this week that included visits to Japan, China, and Mongolia. During the trip, Hagel: met with defense ministers at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Forum in Honolulu, Hawaii; announced that the United States will send two more Aegis-equipped ships to Japan; was the first foreign official to tour China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning; and was gifted a horse in Mongolia, where he sought to deepen U.S.-Mongolia military relations. Predictably, Hagel’s stay in China was contentious at times, with Chinese officials boasting of China’s military prowess and expressing their displeasure at perceived U.S. support for Japan and the Philippines in the East and South China Seas.

4. Japan, United States stall on trade pact. U.S. trade representative Michael Froman and Japanese minister of economy, trade, and industry Akira Amari met in Tokyo this week, but failed to resolve bilateral trade issues regarded as critical to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks. Amari and Froman told reporters that they had made some progress but that considerable differences remain over trade barriers, including tariffs on Japanese automobiles and U.S. pork, beef, and rice. Government officials on both sides had originally hoped an agreement could be reached in time for U.S. president Barack Obama’s state visit to Japan on April 24-25. Despite the difficulties, both Froman and Amari stressed the importance of continuing negotiations, saying the TPP will offer tremendous opportunities for both countries, the region, and the global economy.

5. Taiwanese students end occupation of Taiwan’s parliament. Taiwanese students protesting a proposed services trade pact with mainland China ended their three-week occupation of the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament. They agreed to leave only after legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng promised to halt debate on the trade deal until new oversight rules are passed. Despite the peaceful ending, student protestors have vowed to continue their efforts. The “Sunflower Movement,” as the protests have become known, has exposed Taiwan’s division over increasing economic integration with mainland China. The view from Beijing remains positive, however, as officials believe the protests will not affect cross-strait relations.

Bonus: French mountain air for sale in China. Chinese artist Liang Kegang auctioned a glass jar of clean air from France’s Provence region before a group of about one hundred Chinese artists and collectors. Selling for 5,250 yuan ($860), Liang’s jar is part of a recent trend in artistic protests reflecting widespread dissatisfaction over China’s air quality. In February, twenty Beijing artists wore dust masks and played dead outside the Temple of Heaven; in March, artists in Changsha held a mock funeral for the last citizen to die from smog.

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