Middle East This Week: January 17, 2023

January 17, 2023

A weekly review of news and analysis of elections in the greater Middle East and North Africa, usually posted on Tuesdays and occasionally updated throughout the week.

The Sidi Salem Dam in Tunisia. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Pmgforever (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ongoing Middle East Elections

Lebanon Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): Continuing

Lebanon’s fractious parliament is in the process of selecting a president. As part of Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the president is always a Maronite Christian (and conversely, a Sunni serves as prime minister and a Shi’ite as speaker of the parliament). 

The last parliamentary elections took place in May 2022 in the context of a political and economic crisis exacerbated by the August 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut. In those elections, Hezbollah and its allies lost their majority in parliament, and a number of independents won seats. 

The fragmented parliament has not been able to pick a new president, leaving a vacuum following the end of Michel Aoun’s term in October 2022. Aoun was a strong ally of Hezbollah. Michel Moawad, an anti-Hezbollah candidate, won the most votes on the first ballot but not enough to secure a majority. Voting will continue until someone can break the stalemate. 

Zvi Bar’el, Haaretz (January 13, 2023): No One Can Send Lebanon Back to the Stone Age; It’s Already There

Makram Rabah, Al-Arabiya (January 11, 2023): Lebanon’s lack of love in its time of cholera

Upcoming Middle East Elections

Tunisia Legislative Runoffs: January 29, 2023

Tunisia began transitioning to democracy in 2011, amid the Arab Spring protests, and in 2019, held the third national elections since the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.  Political outsider and populist Kais Saied won the presidency. The results indicated a rejection of the main political parties and post-Ben Ali political ideologies (Islamism and secular liberalism). However, Saied took the country down an authoritarian path and took actions that his opponents said subvert democracy. As a result, protests have been taking place. 

North Africa Post (January 16, 2023): Tunisia: Second round of legislatives set for January 29

Al Jazeera (January 15, 2023 – video): Is Tunisia a failed democracy?

AP (January 14, 2023): Thousands protest in Tunisia against president’s rule

Peter Fabricius, Institute for Security Studies (January 13, 2023): Apathy and poor leadership paralyse Tunisia: December’s record low voter turnout was both a protest and a symptom of disenchantment with the country’s leaders.

Turkey General Elections: May 14, 2023

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power since 2003, and although the party initially ran on a reformist platform, it has become increasingly authoritarian. A 2017 constitutional change, with passed very narrowly in a referendum, replaced the parliamentary system with a presidential system, and gave the presidency new powers.

While Turkey remains a member of NATO, it has in recent years moved closer to Russia and other authoritarian countries.

Nazlan Ertan, Al-Monitor (January 18, 2023): Erdogan picks historically charged date of May 14 for Turkey’s crucial election

Reuters (January 17, 2023): Exclusive: Jailed Kurdish leader says Erdogan seeking pre-election ‘chaos’ but will fail

John Bolton, Wall Street Journal (January 16, 2023): NATO’s Electoral Message for Erdoğan: The alliance ought to put Ankara’s membership on the chopping block if the Turkish president meddles in the upcoming contests.

Michael Crowley and Edward Wong, New York Times (January 13, 2023): Biden Administration Faces Resistance to Plan to Sell F-16s to Turkey

Batu Coskun, Carnegie Endowment (January 12, 2023): Erdoğan Rediscovers Kemalism

Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor (January 11, 2023): Istanbul mayor charged with corruption as Turkish opposition weighs Erdogan challenger

Ayla Jean Yackley, Financial Times (January 11, 2023): Political ban is ‘axe to democracy’, says Turkish opposition leader: Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu predicts voters will punish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party at the polls

Kurdistan (Iraq) Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: September 2023 (due – delayed from 2022)

Kurdistan is officially part of Iraq but largely operates as a de facto independent entity. 

Chenar Chalak at Rudaw notes: “The Kurdistan Region’s ruling parties, the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have been at loggerheads in recent months over the Region’s parliamentary elections, the transparency of the oil and local income of the provinces under their influence, and the assassination of a former PUK colonel in Erbil in October.”

Chenar Chalak, Rudaw (January 17, 2023): KDP’s Barzani says ‘no excuse’ for delaying elections

Pakistan General Elections: October 12, 2023 (due – snap elections possible and increasingly likely)

Following Pakistan’s turbulent 2018 general election, former cricket star Imran Khan – seen as the military’s preferred candidate – became prime minister when his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the most seats. However, Khan was ousted in an April 2022 vote of no confidence and former opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif became prime minister.

Since then, Khan has sought to force early elections in various ways.

Ismail Dilawar, Bloomberg (January 17, 2023): Pakistan’s Ruling Coalition Party Upsets Khan in Karachi Vote

Adnan Aamir, Nikkei Asia (January 17, 2023): Pakistan elections seen imminent after assembly dissolutions

Ismail Dilawar and Kamran Haider, Bloomberg (January 13, 2023): Imran Khan Dissolving Regional Assemblies to Push Pakistan Polls

Mubasher Bukhara, Reuters (January 13, 2023): Pakistan province calls for local assembly to be dissolved in win for former PM Khan

Mariah Afzal, Brookings Institution (January 13, 2023): Pakistan: Five major issues to watch in 2023

Iraq Regional Elections: December 2023 (due)

Al-Monitor (January 13, 2023): Iraq’s Sadr indicates return to politics in public prayer session: Muqtada al-Sadr organized a public prayer on Friday, making a comeback to politics after months of silence.

Libya Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: Overdue

Libya’s general elections are long overdue amid several crises. 

Ibrahim al-Khazen, Anadolou Agency (January 17, 2023): Libya’s parliament speaker says elections to be held before November 2023

Patrick Wintour, The Guardian (January 12, 2023): Libyan politicians’ pay goes up 40% as election impasse continues

Past Middle East Elections

Israel Snap Parliamentary Elections: November 1, 2022

Israel has held five sets of general elections over the past four years. The most recent returned Bibi Netanyahu to power, this time heading the country’s most right-wing government to date.

In addition, Jerusalem will hold local government elections in October 2023.

Eliav Breuer, Jerusalem Post (January 15, 2023): Netanyahu: November elections were ‘the mother of all protests’

AP (January 15, 2023): Israel’s Netanyahu moving ahead on legal overhaul despite outcry

Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post (January 14, 2023): Who is the Arab-Israeli lawyer running in Jerusalem’s municipal election? Waleed Abu Tayeh, 68, is currently in the process of forming a list to contest the municipal election, which has been boycotted in the past by Arabs.

Iran Presidential Election: June 18, 2021

RFE/RL (January 17, 2023): Iranian Detained At Protests Handed Three Death Sentences

Foreign Policy (January 17, 2023): Iran’s Protests Are Nowhere Near Revolutionary: Many say the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement will threaten the regime this year. They’re wrong.

Olivia Bizot, France24 (January 16, 2023 – video): Iran protests, 4 months on: Human rights group say at least 500 killed in crackdown

Crisis24 (January 14, 2023): Iran: Nationwide street protests likely to continue losing momentum into late January amid government crackdown, executions

Middle East Elections Coming Up in 2023

Turkey and Pakistan are due to hold elections that determine who runs the government. In addition, long-overdue elections in the Palestinian Authority and Libya could take place in 2023, but don’t hold your breath.

Pakistan, Local Elections in Karachi and Hyderabad: January 15, 2023

Tunisia Legislative Runoffs: January 20, 2023

Lebanon Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): continues in January 2023

Turkey Presidential and Legislative Elections: May 14, 2023

Lebanon Local Elections: May 31, 2023 (postponed from 2022 – additional delays possible)

Tunisia Local Elections: May 2023 (due)

Kurdistan (Iraq) Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: September 2023 (due – delayed from 2022)

Pakistan General Elections: October 12, 2023 (due – snap elections possible)

Israel Local Elections: October 2023 (due)

Oman Consultative Assembly Elections (advisory body with limited power): October 2023 (due)

United Arab Emirates Federal National Council Elections (indirect elections, advisory body with limited powers): October 2023 (due)

Iraq Regional Elections: December 2023 (due)

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