Middle East This Week: March 14, 2023

March 14, 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 ruins of ancient Ephesus, near Izmir, Turkey. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Benh LIEU SONG (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.

AFP (March 14, 2023): Lebanon’s currency value plunges to 100,000 against US dollar

Reuters (March 14, 2023): Amid ongoing Lebanese stalemate, France renews sanctions threat

The National UAE (March 9, 2023): Lebanese MPs say 50 nights sleeping in Parliament ‘a fight for hope’

Adam Lucente, Al-Monitor (March 9, 2023): Explainer: Four contenders vying to become Lebanon’s next president

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.”

Sophia Saifi, Tara John, and Vasco Cotovio, CNN (March 14, 2023): Clashes in Pakistan as police try to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan

Ayaz Gul, Voice of America (March 14, 2023): Pakistan Police Fire Tear Gas in Bid to Arrest Ex-PM Khan

Bloomberg (March 10, 2023): How Imran Khan Wants to Win Back Power in Pakistan

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.

Turkey’s opposition made the decision to field a single candidate against Erdoğan in this year’s election. The government barred Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from running, so the opposition candidate will be Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). While AKP has its roots in political Islam, CHP is staunchly secularist, having been founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. 

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. 

Jonathan Spicer and Ece Toksabay, Reuters (May 13, 2023): Polls show Erdogan lags opposition by more than 10 points ahead of May vote

Borzou Daragahi, The Independent (March 13, 2023): Dictators are manipulating Turkey’s elections – the West must step up

Cyrielle Cabot, France24 (March 10, 2023): Turkish opposition unites against ‘weaker than ever’ Erdogan ahead of elections

AP (March 10, 2023): Erdogan sets May 14 election date as he seeks to extend rule

Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN, (March 8, 2023): Erdogan’s ‘polar opposite’ wants to replace him as president of Turkey

Tunisia Local Elections: May 2023 (due)

AFP (March 13, 2023): Tunisia swears in new defanged parliament

Reuters (March 9, 2023): Tunisian president to dissolve municipal councils months before local elections

Libya Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: Overdue but proposed for 2023

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

Reuters (March 11, 2023): Libyan elections are possible this year, U.N. envoy says

AFP (March 9, 2023): Split Libya pushes back against UN plan for 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.

Hadas Gold and Amir Tal, CNN (March 12, 2023): Half a million Israelis join latest protest against Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul, organizers say

Times of Israel (March 11, 2023): DC think tank lists Israel as only free Mideast nation, but warns of legal shakeup

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rapprochement 

Nadeen Ebrahim, Abbas Al Lawati and Hadas Gold, CNN, (March 13, 2023): A Saudi-Iran reconciliation may ripple across the region. Here’s why

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 March 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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