Starting from next weekend, more than 1.6 billion people are expected to head to the polls across Asia in what will be one of the biggest tests for the region’s democracy.
This year voters in Thailand, and then Indonesia, India, the Philippines and Japan will all cast ballots in major elections for new leadership and representation that could herald significant changes in the region.
The record-breaking elections in Indonesia and India — in terms of elected positions and voter turnout respectively — could see new presidents in two of the world’s largest democracies, while in Thailand, analysts are predicting a tighter grip by the military junta.
But despite the mammoth days of elections, Justin Hastings, associate professor in international relations at the University of Sydney, told the ABC that “Asia seems to be going sideways” in a period of democratic stagnation.
Analysts also say that while each country’s democracy will be tested in a different way, the elections are all expected to show just how far-reaching the legacy of incumbents will be.
Here is a guide to this year’s Asian elections in chronological order, and a look at how the results could impact each of the countries:
March 24: ‘Another chapter’ in Thailand’s political turmoil
Thai voters will head to the polls for the first time next week since the 2014 military coup led by the Royal Thai Army, which ousted former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
It will also be the first general elections under the new 2017 Constitution which has been criticised as a consolidation of the military’s power.
The results could be a turning point after nearly two decades of political turmoil which has seen the country irreconcilably split between supporters and detractors of Thaksin Shinawatra — the brother of Ms Shinawatra, who was himself deposed in a 2006 coup — but analysts are sceptical.
While voters can freely vote for their preferred candidate, the highly pro-royalist Thai military has placed restrictions on internet freedom and detained both activists and members of the opposition.
Matt Wheeler, senior South-East Asia analyst from the International Crisis Group, said the elections “will be another chapter in the saga of Thailand’s political turmoil, rather than a denouement”.
“The election will not resolve the longstanding problem facing Thailand … there is no consensus across society about the basis of political legitimacy,” he told the ABC
In February, Princess Ubolratana Mahidol was named as a nominee to become the next prime minister by the Thai Raksa Chart Party, which is affiliated with the Shinawatra family.
Her decision to run would have pit her against the junta leader and preferred military candidate, current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, however the nomination was swiftly dismissed by her younger brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The Thai Raksa Chart Party was last week dissolved by Thailand’s Constitutional Court, and its leaders banned from politics for a decade, over the allegation that the Princess’s nomination was unconstitutional.
April 17: Indonesians ‘unprecedentedly divided’
Up to 193 million eligible Indonesians are due to vote in the single biggest election day in the world, with 809,500 polling stations set up across the country, according to the General Elections Commission of Indonesia.
The elections will see the same candidates as the 2014 presidential elections, incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and former general Prabowo Subianto, face off.
However five years on, Mr Jokowi’s reputation as a hands-on former governor of Jakarta is starting to wane as he failed to keep his election promises, particularly around human rights, amid a rise of Islamisation across the country.
One of the biggest concerns is the rise of voter dissatisfaction towards both candidates, with many referring to themselves as “Golongan Putih” — literally meaning white group — who prefer to sit out the elections.
Noory Okthariza, political analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, told the ABC that the spread of misinformation and “excessive” use of laws to quash freedom of speech were also major concerns.
Mr Okthariza said the short-term challenge would be rectify social harmony as “Indonesians are unprecedentedly divided right now.”
“We need to simplify our electoral system as the current system is too complex and voters do not have a good understanding about the legislative candidates,” he said.
While Mr Widodo is the favourite to win, Mr Okthariza said he was likely to win by a smaller margin than analysts are predicting given the number of swing and undecided voters.
11 April – 19 May: India, the world’s largest democracy, votes
About 900 million people in India are eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise to take place in seven phases over several weeks.
The general election are held to select members of the 17th Lok Sabha, the lower house of India bicameral parliament, where the majority party will eventually decide the nation’s next prime minister.
The elections will be a crucial test for incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is running for a second five-year term after his historic win in 2014, which was the biggest single-party majority win in 30 years.
However, Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing a tough challenge from its main opposition, the Indian National Congress Party, led by the descendant of the country’s most powerful political family — Rahul Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi.
While the BJP’s popularity took a tumble earlier in the year partly due to a shortage of jobs and plunging produce prices, analysts are predicting Mr Modi is still the most likely to win, albeit with a smaller margin.
Sangit Kumar Ragi, professor at the University of Delhi’s political science department, said the pendulum was swinging in Mr Modi’s favour with patriotism soaring amid recent unrest in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
“Air strikes against Pakistan has transformed their anger into jubilation,” he said.
However Dhruva Jaishankar, fellow in foreign policy studies at Brookings India, told the ABC that Indian elections were notoriously hard to predict.
“There is an outside chance that the BJP will fall below 200 seats in Parliament, which will [create] room for a large coalition including the [National] Congress Party forming the Government,” he said.
May 13: A ‘turning point’ for Philippine democracy
The Philippine general elections are held to select members of congress halfway through President Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year term.
While it will not affect on Mr Duterte’s presidency, analysts have described it as an “important turning point for the future of the Philippine democracy”.
“If Duterte is able to build a supermajority in the Senate — and the surveys suggest that this could be within his reach — it will greatly enhance any ambitions he might have for the further consolidation of his power,” Paul Hutchcroft from the Australian National University told the ABC.
Nicole Curato, senior research fellow at the University of Canberra, told the ABC that “the stakes of the mid-terms are high”.
She said an independent senate would allow investigations against extrajudicial killings of drug-related crimes and other perceived abuses of the Duterte administration.
April and June: Japanese ‘double elections’
Japan is set to have a “double election”, with nationwide local government elections in April — the same month as Emperor Akihito’s historic abdication — and Upper House elections in June.
The local elections start on April 7, however no date has been called for the upper House of Councillors election.
The election for the House of Councillors is seen by analysts as a barometer for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies.
Vedi Hadiz, director of Asian studies at the University of Melbourne, said Mr Abe might be tempted to opt for an early election if he performed well — which could extend his record as Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister.
However his broad unpopularity among voters due to restrictive policies on immigration and tax hikes may pose a challenge.