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Podcast

Asia Stream: the Asian election landscape in 2022

From India to the Philippines, which elections will matter this year?

NEW YORK -- Welcome to Nikkei Asia's new podcast: Asia Stream.

Every week, Asia Stream tracks and analyzes the Indo-Pacific with a mix of interviews with experts and original reporting by our correspondents from across the globe.

New episodes are recorded weekly and available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all other major platforms, plus on our YouTube channel.

This week, we examine Asia's evolving electoral landscape and list the crucial political battles that are coming up this year, with a deep dive into the upcoming election in the Philippines. And we appraise the mood in Washington one year after the January 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol, and 10 months before the midterm elections. 

Joining us this episode is renowned journalist and Columbia University Professor Sheila Coronel as well as our own Monica Hunter-Hart and Jack Stone Truitt. 

Asia Stream is hosted by Wajahat S. Khan, our digital editor, and produced by Monica Hunter-Hart and Jack Stone Truitt. 

Our theme music is "What's the Angle?" by Shane Ivers.

LISTEN HERE

Mentioned in this episode:

-Nikkei Asia guide to a busy election year

-Nikkei Asia's 2022 Philippine elections coverage

-On Jan. 6, Biden vows to save democracy from 'dagger' at its throat, by Jack Stone Truitt

TRANSCRIPT:

(Theme Music in: "What's the Angle?," by Shane Ivers)

WAJAHAT S. KHAN, HOST:

Hello and welcome to Asia Stream -- where we track, report, and analyze the issues and interests of the world's largest region. I am Waj Khan, Nikkei Asia's Digital Editor, here in New York City.

Today's episode: The Asian Election Landscape in 2022, where we will try to make sense of the most crucial political races in the Indo-Pacific. We shall start with an all-you-need-to-know list with our correspondent Monica Hunter-Hart, then zoom in on the controversial presidential race in the Philippines with Columbia University Professor Sheila Coronel, and then pivot to the state of the union, with an update on the upcoming U.S. midterm elections with our reporter, Jack Stone Truitt. And before we leave, we'll also feature a quick update on the evolving crisis in Kazakhstan.

It's a helluva show. So get ready to cast your ballot!

You're listening to the sound of Asia, streaming in your ear. From Nikkei Asia, this is Asia Stream.

(Theme Music out)

KHAN: So now that 2021 has officially come to a close, it's time to look ahead to the coming year and clearly there are some major challenges the world will continue to grapple with, like the pandemic and climate change, but there are also some very important political battles coming up in the Indo-Pacific: over a dozen national elections, about half a dozen presidential elections, and yes, even some state elections so big that more people will vote in them than the entire populations of Germany and the United Kingdom combined! Joining me in the studio to talk about the Indo-Pacific's morphing electoral landscape is Asia Stream correspondent Monica Hunter-Hart, who keeps a very sharp eye on all things democratic and otherwise. Monica, thanks for being here.

MONICA HUNTER-HART, CORRESPONDENT: Thank you for having me.

KHAN: So I hear it's going to be a pretty big election year in the Indo-Pacific region.

HUNTER-HART: Yes, it is. I think the best way to convey the scale of these upcoming races is to hit you with some numbers. So, here's a population for you. 230 million.

KHAN: That's easy, that's the population of Brooklyn.

HUNTER-HART: That's not funny. No, it's the population of UP.

KHAN: Right, that's the University of Phoenix.

HUNTER-HART: Maybe this was a bad idea. No. Uttar Pradesh, the biggest state in India. People often call it UP. It's so big that if it were its own country, it would be the world's 6th-most populous nation.

KHAN: Right. So, that sounds like a pretty significant voting bloc, Monica. But why should we be watching a state election in India?

HUNTER-HART: Well this isn't just your regular state election, Waj. The reason why this contest is so important is because it's the single biggest chance India's beleaguered opposition has to stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist juggernaut until 2024, when he's up for reelection. It's kind of like the U.S. midterms.

KHAN: How?

HUNTER-HART: So the U.S. midterms won't directly affect the next presidential race in 2024, but they will indicate how Republicans' and Democrats' popularity is trending ahead of that race. Similarly, the UP elections in India will not unseat Modi, but may unhinge his position. They will be a yardstick of his popularity and indicate what might happen in the 2024 race. The election is also important because of its sheer size, Waj. This is the largest component of the largest election in the world. Over 150 million people are registered to vote, and Mr. Modi's BJP is currently favored to win around 60% of the seats in most surveys. Just as California is the biggest prize in U.S. national elections, the UP is the biggest prize in Indian elections. The general trend is that however the UP goes, so goes India.

KHAN: So, it's like the mother of all bellwether states.

HUNTER-HART: Right. Modi would say it's the mother of the mother of all democracies, though it's experiencing a democratic backslide, thanks in large part to its mistreatment of minorities, as we have previously discussed on Asia Stream.

KHAN: The mother of the mother of all democracies, which would make it an electoral grandma.

HUNTER-HART: Ha. Yes.

KHAN: Right. Let's pivot. What about contests which could shape an immediate change in national leadership? Are any of those coming up?

HUNTER-HART: Yes -- in South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines.

KHAN: Okay, hit me with some figures.

HUNTER-HART: Alright. 47 to 53.

KHAN: 47 to 53. I'm a little disturbed because it sounds like you're trying to guess my age now Monica.

HUNTER-HART: No, no, I wouldn't dare. So I'm moving to the Australian election now. 47 to 53 are the results from an early December poll, which show current Prime Minister Scott Morrison's conservative party a bit behind the center-left Labor party. The way Australia's system works is that the majority party chooses the prime minister from its parliamentary ranks.

KHAN: That's very British of them.

HUNTER-HART: Indeed. Now, here's another number, Waj -- 1 million.

KHAN: Ooo. My holiday bonus?

HUNTER-HART: Doubtful. But if you were a South Korean citizen and Lee Jae-myung wins the upcoming presidential election, that's how much he says he'd give you every year in won, South Korea's currency. It's the equivalent of about 835 U.S. dollars. Young adults would get twice as much.

KHAN: I love this guy, another universal basic income chap. So is he kind of like South Korea's Andrew Yang?

HUNTER-HART: Comparisons have been made. Lee has also compared himself to another former U.S. presidential candidate. He once said he wanted to be, quote, a "successful Bernie Sanders."

KHAN: Hmm. So rather than "feeling the Bern," are supporters of Lee eeexcited about his prospects?

HUNTER-HART: Okay I have to intervene -- Waj, I think you've already reached your quota on puns for the episode. The polls are really tight right now between Lee and the conservative candidate Yoon Seok-youl. Both men have had some pretty serious allegations levied at them and their associates that are prompting questions about their fitness to lead. This election will also have important implications for Japan. Things are tense right now between Seoul and Tokyo because of resurfaced issues from Japan's colonial rule. Lee, the universal basic income candidate, isn't very interested in normalizing relations with Japan. Yoon, on the other hand, does want to normalize relations. If that happens, South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. could shore up their alliance in the Indo-Pacific and stand united against the China-led order.

KHAN: Some interesting ripple effects coming up. Seoul's own political Squid Games.

HUNTER-HART: Yup. Okay, now: 3,257.

KHAN: I believe that's the year this pandemic will finally be over.

HUNTER-HART: Oof, too far. No, but it's another depressing number. It's an estimate of the number of extrajudicial killings that occurred under the dictatorship of Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, who was in power from 1965 to 1986.

KHAN: That's awful, and disturbing, but why are you telling me about someone who ruled almost 40 years ago?

HUNTER-HART: Well, now his son is running for president.

KHAN: That's right! I heard about that! Junior, right?

HUNTER-HART: Yep. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. He's running to replace Rodrigo Duterte, who's finishing up his six years in office and can't run again because of term limits.

KHAN: Right, Duterte. I remember that his daughter is running for VP, too. There's a serious legacy of strongman regimes in the Philippines. Almost everyone in the race is controversial.

HUNTER-HART: Yeah they are.

KHAN: What are Marcos Jr.'s chances?

HUNTER-HART: He's leading in early polls, but there's actually a chance he might not even be able to participate in the election because he's facing a number of legal challenges to his candidacy. Last number: Zero.

KHAN: Let me guess: the chances of elections in Myanmar. Or the number of female ministers in Afghanistan.

HUNTER-HART: Good guesses. I was thinking the percentage chance I'm going to do this numbers gimmick in future segments.

KHAN: Oh come on.

HUNTER-HART: But now that you mention it, there are very few female heads of state in the region. Out of the 50 states or special administrative regions we cover, there are only 5 female chief executives. They're in New Zealand, Samoa, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Taiwan. That's a number I hope increases soon.

KHAN: Agreed, that change is crucial for democracy. Is there anything else I need to know?

HUNTER-HART: Briefly, there are a couple other races to keep on your radar. One of the houses of Japan's legislature has an election; that'll be a test of whether the new prime minister's party can hold onto power. In November, Taiwan will have local elections and the U.S. will have its Congressional midterm elections, which will determine the extent to which President Joe Biden can enact his agenda over the rest of his term.

KHAN: Wow, that's a lot. My head is sort of spinning. And no vote has been cast yet.

HUNTER-HART: It's a lot to keep track of, but luckily it's not all happening at once. The first one to look out for is the big one, in terms of sheer size: India's UP election, which begins in February.

KHAN: Right. I will do that. Well, thanks, Monica, for keeping us honest about the state of Indo-Pacific politics.

HUNTER-HART: Sure thing, Waj, my pleasure.

KHAN: So, that was an overview of some of the most important races coming up in the Indo-Pacific this year, but now it's time to take a deeper dive into one contest that the whole world is watching: the Philippines presidential election, coming up in May. The Philippines are a big deal -- the second-most populous country in Southeast Asia, the seventh largest economy in all of Asia.

The incumbent Rodrigo Duterte, a controversial figure because of his human rights record, has reached his term limit, and cannot run. But the favored-to-win candidate pair is also controversial: Ferdinand, aka "Bongbong," Marcos Jr. for president, and Sara Duterte as his VP. The daughter of a strongman teamed up with the son of a dictator, Marcos Sr., who was overthrown in the so-called "People Power Revolution" of 1986. Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte both represent a continuity of dynasty politics. In some ways, that's nothing new for the Philippines; per one estimate, 70% to 90% of the country's elected offices have been held by members of influential families. But if dynasties get you to power, then so does celebrity: Other top contenders include a former boxer and a former actor. The election is also marred by an organized disinformation effort.

Here to talk about this fascinating race with us is internationally-renowned journalist Sheila Coronel! In 1989, she co-founded the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, which quickly became the foremost institution for investigative reporting in both the Philippines and all of Asia, and whose reporting on President Joseph Estrada's corruption led to an uprising and his fall from power in 2001. She was the very first director of Columbia Journalism School's center for investigative journalism and has led that center since 2006. And like the rest of the Asia Stream team, she's also a fellow New Yorker. Sheila, thanks for being with us.

SHEILA CORONEL, GUEST: Thank you for inviting me.

KHAN: All right. So Sheila, let's do a Philippines Election checklist, right? It's got dynasty politics, social media propaganda, propaganda, allegations of drug use, corruption, celebrity, it seems like everything that is contentious and controversial about modern politics is happening here, all at once. Is this what every elections looks like in the Philippines?

CORONEL: Well, this election is special in some way. It's I think, not since the fall of Marcos has an election been so crucial in determining the Philippine's democratic future. Marcos, as you know, fell after a contested election. People Power brought an end to the dictatorship. It's been more than 30 years since then. And we have seen the rise of both populism and authoritarianism in the country. So this election will determine really, whether the Philippines will go down that authoritarian route, you know, increasingly become a backsliding democracy or become, you know, a more liberal and pluralistic country.

KHAN: Right, so, Sheila, going back in time, when you started your career as an underground reporter, at the end of that era, you just referred to, the Marcos Sr. era. Now, he was a renowned kleptocrat, a dictator who used some pretty overt means of controlling information. It's been recorded that in '72, gosh, it seems so long ago, when he shut down all the papers, and when they reopened, they were all owned by his cronies and his buddies. Now the current president, who you've written about extensively as well, Rodrigo Duterte, is using different tactics. You've written and I quote, he's using the "Modern Autocrat's Field Guide to Information Control." So tell us, how are his tactics more evolved than Marcos?

CORONEL: So in the past, strongmen restricted the flow of information. That is nearly impossible in this day and age, given the ubiquity of the internet. You can shut down social media and the internet for a few days, like they did in Egypt, and have done Kazakhstan recently. But that is not possible any longer. So what is happening instead is not a constricting of information, but the flooding of the information space with propaganda and disinformation.

KHAN: Right, now Professor, you've called this a "pincer" move by the Philippines' president. There's the corporate bullying and regulation of media on the one hand and then organized social media trolling and disinformation on the other, coming together to clamp down on independent media.

And then, of course, there's the violence. The Philippines is one of the deadliest countries in the world for violence against journalists, with around 150 journalists killed there since 1992 -- around 20 since President Duterte came to power in 2016. Of course, in the middle of all of this, there are brave reporters who keep carrying on -- the likes of Maria Ressa, who has become the first journalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize since the 1930s, and who run independent organizations like Rappler. But given this unholy trinity against the press -- the crackdown, the disinformation, and the violence -- how can we expect "free and fair" elections this May, when it's so hard to cover them in the first place?

CORONEL: Well, that's a really good question. There is real real concern about the integrity of this coming election, given the dominance of Duterte and his allies and the Marcoses as well. They've invested heavily in flooding the information space with fake Facebook accounts, disinformation armies, they have mastered the use of social media to promote a populist ideology. In this case of "Bongbong" Marcos, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., for years, he and his family have have invested a great deal in revising the history of the Marcos dictatorship, making Marcos look like a modernizing leader who brought the Philippines to progress in the 1970s and who brought peace, stability, and economic growth. Completely fictional, of course, but they have managed to do that really, by heavy investments in controlling the media in the various ways that you've mentioned. And so there are no alternatives now in terms of mainstream media giving contrarian views. What you have are small feisty news organizations like Rappler. Rappler is about two dozen journalists at the most, against this behemoth of social media armies that number in the thousands, and that continue to provide an unending and unrelenting stream of propaganda, disinformation and hate. So how is it possible to have a public sphere when fact-based, evidence-based information and opinion are drowned out by fake news, propaganda, and disinformation, the whole notion of informed public debate becomes almost, you know, ridiculous, given how much how outgunned and outnumbered journalists and more rational members of civil society are in this information space.

KHAN: It's interesting to hear that Sheila, especially this week, as America commemorates the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 storming of the US Capitol. That uprising was triggered by many factors, but social media disinformation was one of them. However, the U.S. has a robust mainstream media to balance that disinformation, and there's increasing platform regulation too. But those checks and balances seem to be missing in Asia, don't they? And the effects are quite detrimental.

CORONEL: This has been a continuing discussion. As you know, Facebook was it was being held responsible -- in fact, there's a lawsuit that seeks to hold Facebook responsible -- for the genocide in Myanmar. The Philippines was one of the first test cases of, you know, this free Facebook Basics along with Myanmar, Indonesia and other places. And so people were given free access to Facebook without having to buy a plan. You get it when you buy a smartphone. So and smartphones are ubiquitous, because they're cheap, all over Asia, as you know, and in countries that have very fragile democracies, bad actors have taken advantage of this have really hijacked Facebook and other social media, you know, YouTube, Instagram, in order to promote hate speech, genocide in the case of Duterte, to get popular support for a very bloody war on drugs that has killed thousands of people. In the case of the Marcos's, to promote a different version of history. So all of these social media platforms have been very good platforms for what they call the big lie, or the big lies, which depend, you know, country to country. In India, as you know, it's a different kind of big lie, different kind of hate. And the problem is that countries like the Philippines, like Myanmar, like Indonesia, have very little agency in terms of platform regulation, because these platforms are not, are not, you know, they don't answer, they're beyond the jurisdiction of Philippine law. There have been attempts to shut down many of the fake accounts, for example, with the Marcoses. But as you know, this is like a game of whack-a-mole right?

KHAN: Right.

CORONEL: You shut down one Facebook account, other Facebook accounts take over. You shut down one YouTube channel, many more channels can take over. It's an unending game. And so I think the United States has a huge responsibility to regulate these platforms that are headquartered here and that are wreaking havoc in information spaces all around the world.

KHAN: Well, if that ever happens, Professor, chances are it's not going to be before these polls in May. Given that, will you trust the election's integrity?

CORONEL: I fear that the odds are against anti-Marcos or anti-Duterte candidates. The odds are really stacked against them. It's not an even fight. It's not an even electoral field. Duterte has the power of the incumbent, and he will use that power to make sure that his daughter and his allies get elected in this next election. Duterte has stacked the commissioner in elections and other institutions of accountability with his appointees, mostly people from his native city of Davao. All very loyal to him. So I am really worried about the integrity of these coming elections.

KHAN: Right. Well, thanks for that. But that very somber note also leads me to the other candidates, the candidates who are not on Duterte's side. And then, of course, top of that list are people like Leni Robredo, who is the current vice president, but who has carved a position for herself as the anti-Duterte candidate, right? And she's, from reports, a relatively more liberal, a former activist, and has specifically criticized his brutal anti-drug campaign. Now Sheila, she's polling at a distant second place. How much of a contender is she? And honestly, why isn't her polling higher? Why are these candidates who are associated with this strongman symbolism so popular versus more liberal candidates?

CORONEL: I think that the problem really is that there is a great deal of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, frustration, with more than 30 years of liberal democracy in the Philippines. Democracy has failed to deliver as in many other places, in terms of a better life, especially for the ordinary, ordinary people. And also we see even middle class dissatisfaction with the anarchy, the disorder, the -- you know, democracy is messy, and people are tired, they are unhappy. There's also rising inequality in the Philippines, as there is in many other countries. So they see that democracy has allowed elites, liberal elites, to basically run the country without much care or without much reforming of the economic structure to allow greater social mobilities. I mean Leni Robredo comes very much from -- she's a human rights lawyer. She was the product of 1986 "people power" and she really represents that liberal strain in Philippine politics, that is under siege like other liberals all around the world, that is under siege by authoritarian populists and being seen as elitist, not in touch with the people, etc., etc. And Duterte has been able to, you know, he's a powerful speaker. And, and he's really managed to, to sort of capture that frustration, and channel it into a support for strongman rule. You know, this yearning for safety and stability, he's managed to, to channel that. And it's very hard for someone like Leni Robredo, who's a woman. She's trying to put forward a sort of nurturing, kinder, more honest government. But we'll see, I mean, the middle classes that were -- some section of the middle class that were mobilized in the uprising against Marcos -- are certainly following her and are attracted to her. So is the Catholic Church, which remains a very powerful institution in the Philippines, for some sections of the business community, which offer more, you know, competitive economic, you know, less cronyism. But it's an uphill battle. It is, it is really a battle like it is here in the U.S. A battle for the soul of the country.

KHAN: Sheila Coronel, of Columbia University. Professor Cornell, thank you so much for your time this morning. Thank you so much.

CORONEL: Thank you for having me.

KHAN: A year ago American democracy underwent a brief but dark experiment with insurrection, when hundreds of supporters of the Republican Party, and former President Donald Trump, attempted to stop the counting of electoral votes in the US Congress that would formally elect Joe Biden. A year later, countless Americans are plugged into the never-ending firehose of news coming out of a bitterly divided Washington, which will only pick up steam now that we've turned the calendar into a midterm election year for the US Congress.

Now the Beltway may be a long way from Beijing but of course the political ramifications of what happens here in America always has global consequences, which -- perhaps even most acutely -- echo across the Indo-Pacific.

To make sense of all things Pax Americana, and what they mean for Asia, is our reporter Jack Stone Truitt. Jack, good to have you back.

JACK STONE TRUITT, REPORTER: Hey Waj, thanks for having me.

KHAN: Now Jack, let us start with the political item of the week: the one year anniversary of the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

This was a harrowing moment for a global superpower, one unlike any other in its political history, and frankly it will be many years before we can properly process its impact as a historical event. But tell us: what did Washington look like, recognizing the first anniversary of that attempted insurrection?

TRUITT: Well Waj, it was a full day of commemoration -- at least from Democrats- on Capitol Hill. From President Biden himself making a speech in the morning to a candlelight vigil to close the evening but the most important event by far was that speech from Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to start the day. And it was most notable because of just how strong the language was from President Biden, a guy who's made his political career off being someone who wants to reach across the aisle and not burn bridges.

BIDEN: To state the obvious, one year ago today, in this sacred place, Democracy was attacked.

TRUITT: He placed the blame for the storming squarely on former President Trump's shoulders, even though he never referred to him by name. Biden accused Trump of creating and spreading a "web of lies about the 2020 election" and that his bruised ego matters more to him than the Constitution does.

TRUITT: Now it's not like much of this hasn't been said about Trump or misinformation about the 2020 election, but it was striking that this was a comment about a predecessor from a sitting U.S. president, especially one with a demeanor like Biden.

KHAN: But I assume his whole address wasn't just focused on Trump, right?

TRUITT: Another strong theme was simply the fragility of democracy in general, and American democracy in particular,

KHAN: How so?...

TRUITT: It really echoed what we've seen as a major theme for Biden and one that you've discussed here before, which is kind of reasserting America's role as a vanguard for democracy across the globe. He said that the world is at an inflection point, between authoritarianism and democracy, even going so far as to name Russia and China directly.

BIDEN: From China to Russia and beyond, they're betting the democracies' days are numbered. [...] they're betting America will become more like them and less like us.

KHAN: How else was the anniversary recognized in D. C?

TRUITT: Well, there were other addresses by members of Congress, moments of silence, and a candlelit vigil held on the Capitol steps. There was also a performance of a song from the hit musical Hamilton by its cast that was beamed in remotely which I think -- however well intentioned -- was a little strange for everyone involved.

(The cast of Hamilton singing 'Dear Theodosia')

KHAN: Surely, President Trump, former President Trump himself had something to say about all of this?

TRUITT: Yes, if ever there was a day he wished he had his Twitter back, this may have been it. He was originally going to hold a press conference from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, but that was scrapped earlier in the week. So instead, he put out four different statements throughout the day, all strongly rejecting what Biden said and pushing false claims about the election.

KHAN: Now pivoting forward, it's officially a midterm election year. The U.S. election cycle is basically never-ending these days, but now that we're somewhat within view of election day, Jack, remind us: what is happening in this election in the first place.

TRUITT: So in a Midterm at the national level it's just members of Congress that are up for election, not the president. This often results in lower turnout, and typically in Midterms the party opposing the president gains a lot of seats, as politicians take advantage of whatever criticism or frustrations voters may have of the job the president has done in their first two years. Sometimes, that means that the opposition gets a majority in the House of Representatives, sometimes it's a majority in the Senate, sometimes it's both.

KHAN: And how are things shaping up for President Biden?

TRUITT: To put it simply, not great. Biden was steadily sitting around a 53% approval rating after his inauguration through the first half of the year. When people were still happy to have moved on from the drama of the Trump administration, vaccines were rolling out like crazy in the spring, it even felt like the U.S. was maybe seeing the end of the pandemic early on in the summer. But then came America's withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, and that's when his approval rating began to slide.

Right now Biden's approval rating is hovering around 43%. Despite the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan that was triggered by the American pullout, Kabul is no longer dominating political conversation in Washington. Instead, it's frustration over rising inflation, as well as the ongoing pandemic.

KHAN: Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Empires and perhaps, presidential administrations, or no. So Jack, and are Republicans ready to pounce come November?

TRUITT: Yes they are, and they only need to gain one seat in the senate and five in the house -- not much considering there's 435 house seats in total -- to take control of both chambers. And if that happens, Washington will most likely come to a halt as Republicans will more or less block anything Biden wants to get done.

KHAN: So that's what's at-stake here in the states, but this is Asia Stream, Jack! Naturally what happens in the world's most powerful country reverberates everywhere else, but tell me what will be the specific implications for Asia from the US elections this year?

TRUITT: Right, well in the broader view the passage of something like Biden's Build Back Better legislation could have a big effect on the trade war with China as it seeks to bring back more manufacturing jobs, as Biden seeks of decoupling the US supply chain with China somewhat.

But more immediately, Congress is in charge of approving and confirming presidential nominees for all kinds of positions, not least of which are members of the State Department. Like the ambassadors who carry out US foreign policy in embassies around the world.

KHAN: Right...

TRUITT: And that can really become important when you have a situation like we do right now in Kazakhstan, where the U.S. actually does not have an official ambassador in the country as there hasn't been a new one confirmed under Biden yet. We also don't have one in Ukraine since Trump recalled America's ambassador there all the way back in 2019. Of course we have interim diplomats in their place, so it's not exactly an empty seat but still, these vacancies matter.

KHAN: Ok, Jack. Last question. If I'm Xi Jinping, who am I rooting for in this midterm?

TRUITT: Well Waj, I think if you're Xi Jinping, or Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un or any other strategic adversary for that matter, any kind of congressional gridlock or lame duck President sitting in the White House is preferable to one who has more authority to legislate and appoint diplomats without much opposition. Now there's still 11 months to go, but as it stands today, the Biden-Harris administration is headed in that direction.

KHAN: Jack Stone Truitt, Nikkei Asia's Markets and Business Reporter, with a handle on all things Washington. Thanks for being here, Jack.

TRUITT: Thanks for having me, Waj, and Happy New Year!

KHAN: Happy New Year!

Before we let you go, the latest from the developing crisis in Kazakhstan, where fuel riots, triggered by a hike in petrol prices, have escalated into popular protests against the authoritarian regime.

(BBC newscast)

State media reported at least 4,000 arrests, with 28 protesters and 18 security personnel killed since the riots began. On Friday, as about 2,500 Russian troops arrived in the country as part of a peacekeeping force, the President of Kazakhstan issued a shoot-to-kill order against protesters, whom he has called "foreign trained bandits and terrorists." That's it for Asia Stream this week.

Thanks to Sheila Coronel for joining our show today. We hope your new year resolution includes heading to Nikkei Asia at asia.nikkei.com for in-depth coverage of elections in Asia, and more. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share, subscribe, and leave us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts. Also, Nikkei Asia is currently offering an exclusive discount for our podcast listeners. Check out our website for more details.

This episode was produced by Monica Hunter-Hart and Jack Stone Truitt. Our theme music is "What's the Angle?" by Shane Ivers. I'm your host, Waj Khan.

Thank you for listening! And happy new year to you and yours!

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