Rights of ‘ordinary people’ in focus as 1bn vote in Asia
March 23 2019 12:12 AM

Rights over land and forests, a push for equality, and getting more women on the ballot are some top election issues in Thailand, India and Indonesia as more than 1bn people prepare to go to the polls, including many first-time voters.
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 tomorrow — 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 from the rural northeast.
A total of 52mn Thais aged 18 and above 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 several newly formed parties in the race, some of them campaigning for greater rights for farmers and minorities.
When about 190mn 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.
Surveys in the lead-up to this election show the president holding a double-digit lead over his challenger.
One issue getting more attention this time is the role of women in politics, said Diego Fossati, an assistant professor at the department of Asian and international studies at City University of Hong Kong.
Indonesian women held about a fifth of the seats in the national parliament last year, as compared to about 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 900mn 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 2mn indigenous people whose land claims were rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
The 2006 law aimed to improve the lives of impoverished tribes by recognising their right to inhabit and live off forests where their ancestors had settled.
But government data showed that, so far, about half the claims have been rejected.
Forest rights activists say the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has failed to implement the law or defend it in court.
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 the states of 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 (CFR-LA).
- Thomson Reuters Foundation

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