Middle East This Week: March 21, 2023

March 21, 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.Samawa, Iraq, on the Euphrates River. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Hayder Aziz (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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.”

Indian Express (March 21, 2023): Pakistan’s coalition govt, military agree on simultaneous elections to all assemblies

Marc Perelma, France24 (March 16, 2023 – video): Ex-Pakistan PM Imran Khan says arrest bid aimed to jail him before elections

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. 

Jamie Dettmer, Politico (March 18, 2023): It’s going to be hard to get rid of Turkey’s Erdoğan

AP (March 17, 2023): Turkey’s president says he will support Finland’s bid to join NATO

Reuters (March 16, 2023): Erdogan’s party pivots back to orthodox economic policies in draft manifesto -sources

Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, Bloomberg (March 15, 2023): Turkey’s Pro-Kurd Party to Back Main Erdogan Rival at Polls

Tobias Gerhard Schminke, Euractiv (March 15, 2023): Turkey’s Kilicdaroglu ahead of Erdogan two months before elections

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.”

Andrew Parasiliti, Al-Monitor (March 15, 2023): ‘No pretext to delay’ Iraqi Kurdistan parliament elections, says Masoud Barzani

Iraq Regional Elections: November 6, 2023

Iraq has set regional council elections for November 6, the first in a decade, in all of the provinces except for Kurdistan, which is autonomous. The councils have significant budgetary powers under Iraq’s 2005 constitution, which created a federal system.

Iraq held early elections on in October 2021  as a result of the pro-democracy protests that began in 2019. The elections took place in the context of widespread protest and political instability, with various politicians boycotting.

AFP (March 20, 2023): Iraq to hold provincial elections on November 6

CNN (March 19, 2023 – photo essay): Ordinary people in Iraq were given disposable cameras. This is what they want you to see

Libya Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: Overdue but proposed for 2023

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

Robbie Gramer and Liam Scott, Foreign Policy (March 21, 2023): Libya Wants Elections but Needs More Than a Ballot Box

Past Middle East Elections

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.”

DW (March 19, 2023): Kuwait court annuls 2022 parliamentary election

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: November 6, 2023

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