The ‘Indo-Pacific Election Pulse’ is an annual project examining the most consequential elections in the region and the most important for Australia’s strategic environment. In what was an ‘unprecedented’ year, Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand, Myanmar, and the United States braved the challenge of conducting elections under the shadow of a pandemic.
This diverse collection of views – from experts from different countries and fields – looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the key elections in our region. A key challenge faced this year included countering misinformation, disinformation and cyber-enabled attempts at foreign interference, as in-person campaigning was restricted, and the virus forced campaign activities online.
The victories of incumbents in Singapore, New Zealand, and Myanmar showed how effective responses to the pandemic granted legitimacy to governments. Taiwan also saw an electoral win by the sitting government. But this was largely a response to Xi Jinping’s harsh politics rather than the government’s pandemic response, as the election took place in January before Covid-19 spread globally.
Conversely, in the US, the Trump administration’s disastrous response to the Covid-19 crisis resulted in a change of leadership. With the Biden administration preparing for the transition, partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific are growing more hopeful to see a return of a more engaged, predictable, or at least conventional, US foreign policy.
The year has been short on good news, and the Indo-Pacific democracies, like all nations, have had their fair share of challenges. But despite the creeping trend of democratic decline globally – arguably exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic – the results show that democratic activism and accountability are doing well.