If Prabowo Subianto does win tomorrow's presidential election in Indonesia, most if not all of Asia's elected democracies will be led by realist conservatives who triumphed over candidates less associated with this political position.
From Netanyahu and Modi in West Asia to Park, Abe and Ma (less so) in Northeast Asia, Aquino and Najib in Southeast Asia, and Abbott and Key in Oceania, the territory covered by this political trend is truly continental. Modi, Abe, Park and Najib are also stronger conservative nationalists than their party predecessors (Vajpayee, Fukuda, Lee and Abdullah respectively). The same trend is noticeable among East Asian non-democracies with Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping seemingly more conservative and nationalist than their predecessors. The coup in Thailand is clearly inspired by conservative and nationalist goals and forces. Will the next generation of Vietnamese Communist Party leaders in 2016 follow suit?
The diversity of Asian societies and political systems and the fact that there are few if any exceptions (I cannot think of one) simply adds to the power of this political phenomenon and the need to try to understand it better beyond looking to the unique intricacies of each state.
Alas, Occam's Razor explanations do not help much. 'Kicking the incumbents out' is not persuasive because Key and Ma have served beyond their first electoral terms, while Park and Najib are from the same ruling party as their predecessors. Mohdi, Aquino, Abe and Abbott, on the other hand, are new. Similarly, the 2008 global financial crisis has not had a uniform political effect even in its North American and European heartlands; its putative political effects in Asia are even harder to divine.
Looking from India eastwards, I would hazard that the worsening external security environment is a contributing factor to the trend and one that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. In Northeast Asia in particular, conservative rule seems to be the norm, with the rise of the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan to power followed quickly by its political demise, and both the right-leaning Kuomintang in Taiwan and the Grand National Party and its successors in Korea well into their second terms after each losing the two previous ones. Economically, Northeast Asian countries have small state sectors (measured by share of GDP and total public sector employment) and tax takes, with limited welfare state systems, suggesting a regional conservative economic consensus.
A group effort might bring a clearer understanding of this trend. It would be great if Interpreter readers could comment from their own points of view on explanations for, exceptions to and disagreements with this trend, using the comments thread below.