Middle East This Week: March 7, 2023

March 7, 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 Maronite Christian Cathedral of Saint Georges and the Sunni Mohamed al Amin Mosque in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Lebnen18 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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, has won the most votes on several ballots, but not a majority. Voting will continue until someone can break the stalemate. 

As a result of not having a president, Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government is operating in a caretaker capacity, and it is exacerbating Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis, with the currency hitting new record lows.

The National UAE (March 7, 2023): Suleiman Frangieh: The man backed by Hezbollah to become Lebanon’s next president

AFP (March 6, 2023): Lebanon’s Hezbollah backs pro-Syrian politician for president

I24 News (March 4, 2023): Lebanon paralysis grows as security chief bows out

Upcoming Middle East Elections

Pakistan, Provincial Elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: April 30, 2023, followed by General Elections: October 12, 2023 (early elections possible)

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 earlier elections as his popularity continues to rise in opinion polls.

This is all taking place in the context of an economic crisis, with soaring prices and rolling blackouts. As a result, the government risks losing the next elections. But delaying the election also creates challenges, given how angry voters are. 

Arif Rafiq observes: “There is little appetite to live in a country where upward mobility and political rights are denied by the civilian-military elite. Many Pakistanis are now voting with their feet. Over 800,000 Pakistanis left the country to work abroad last year, surpassing pre-pandemic levels. According to a Gallup Pakistan survey, over fifty percent of Pakistanis with a university degree would like to leave the country.”

President Arif Alvi, who is a leader of Khan’s PTI party, sparked yet another political crisis by announcing April 9 elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, going around the country’s election commission. 

Khan also announced a “Jail Bharo Tehreek’ [fill the jail movement]” action by which PTI members voluntarily get arrested to force early elections. 

Faseeh Mangi, Bloomberg (March 7, 2023): Imran Khan Popularity Soars Ahead of Vote, Pakistan Survey Shows

Munir Ahmed, AP (March 7, 2023): Pakistan’s ex-PM Imran Khan no-show in court, avoids arrest

Umair Jamal, The Diplomat (March 7, 2023): Pakistan’s Parties Bicker Over Elections: The government is unhappy with President Alvi’s announcement and the Supreme Court directive to hold elections for two provincial assemblies in a few months

DW (March 7, 2023): Can Pakistan afford to hold general elections?

Abid Hussain, Al Jazeera (March 3, 2023): Pakistan’s president says Punjab polls to be held on April 30: Constitutional crisis expected to be resolved after vote set from dates proposed by Election Commission

PTI (March 1, 2023): Imran Khan’s party suspends ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ after Pakistan’s apex court orders polls in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces

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.

An earthquake ravaged the Turkey-Syria borer on February 6, striking Gaziantep province and killing more than 30,000 people and injuring tens of thousands. 

In addition to the humanitarian disaster, the earthquake complicates Turkish politics. Erdogan allies have floated the idea of delaying the elections. As Henri J. Barkey at CFR notes: “It is difficult to imagine that the region can recover sufficiently to conduct elections. It is not just the destruction of property and loss of life that is challenging, but also the fact that many residents are likely to disperse throughout Turkey in search of shelter with family and friends. Of the four provinces afflicted—Adiyaman, Gaziantep, Hatay, and Kahramanmaras—only in Hatay did Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) not win a majority of the votes in the 2018 parliamentary elections. (It was still the number one party.) These are his votes to lose in the next contest.”

Robert Greenall, BBC (March 7, 2023): Turkey opposition names Kilicdaroglu as joint challenger to Erdogan

Stefanie Glinski, Foreign Policy (March 6, 2023): Turkey’s Balancing Act Between Putin and the West

Natasha Turak, CNBC (March 5, 2023): Saudi Arabia drops $5 billion in Turkey’s central bank to help its struggling economy

Abbas Al Lawati, CNN (March 6, 2023): Turkey’s earthquake caused $34 billion in damage. It could cost Erdogan the election

Adam Lanson, Financial Times (March 1, 2023): Turkey to press ahead with May 14 elections: President Erdoğan quashes speculation poll might be postponed in face of criticism of government response to earthquake

Libya Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: Overdue but proposed for 2023

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

Al Jazeera (March 2, 2023): Libya approves constitutional changes in move towards elections

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 what has been called the country’s most right-wing government to date.

Israeli is currently experiencing some of the biggest protests in its history, some involving 100,000 people, sparked by Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary. Critics of the plan say that it would remove a key set of checks and balances in policymaking and give whoever has the majority in parliament too much power, while proponents say that the judiciary currently has too much of a de facto veto over policy and reforms are necessary. 

But even some who support reforms take issue with the fact that this is being done so quickly, without taking the time to build consensus. President Yitzhak Herzog made a rare statement warning of a potential constitutional collapse.

Pierre Broussel, GIS Reports (March 3, 2023): Israeli election delivers new generations, new resentments

Rami Ayyub and Ali Sawafta, Reuters (March 1, 2023): Netanyahu under pressure from US, Israeli protests grow

Times of Israel (March 1, 2023): Mass protests continue into the night in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

David E. Rosenberg, Foreign Policy (March 1, 2023): Why Israel’s Establishment Is Revolting: Centrist Israelis ignored the occupation and settlements for years, but they are up in arms about judicial reforms that threaten the economy—and their self-image

Kuwait Snap Parliamentary Elections: September 29, 2022

Although the monarchy appoints the government, Kuwait has one of the most powerful parliaments in the Gulf.

AP notes: “In September, voters sent conservative Islamist figures and two women to the assembly in the second election in less than two years. The election results were seen as a mandate for change amid a prolonged period of gridlock between the Cabinet and the 50-member assembly.”

The National UAE (March 5, 2023): Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al Sabah reappointed PM

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.

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

Pakistan, Provincial Elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: April 30, 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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